Casting The Baroque Cycle

If I were going to produce a movie — more like an HBO mini-series, I should think — based on Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle, here’s some ideas for who I’d like to cast (if money were not much of an object, of course):

Daniel Waterhouse Peter Krause
Eliza de la Zeur Miranda Otto
Jack Shaftoe Jamie Bamber
Isaac Newton John Malkovich
Gottfried Leibniz Philip Seymour Hoffman
Louis “Leroy” XIV Roger Moore
William of Orange Willem Dafoe
Enoch Root Johnny Depp
Princess Caroline of Ansbach Michelle Monaghan
Sophie Charlotte Kathy Bates
Dappa Djimon Hounsou
Roger Comstock Kyle MacLachlan
Le Duc d’Arcachon Stellan Skarsgård
Etienne d’Arcachon Jeremy Sisto
Édouard de Gex Christian Bale
Catherine Barton Kate Beckinsale
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough Scott Glenn
Robert Hooke David Eigenberg
Peter Romanov, Tsar of all the Russias Hugo Weaving
Peter “Saturn” Hoxton Gary Oldman

Fellow Baroque Cycle fans are welcome to criticize my choices and suggest alternatives. Take your best shot.

Keep in mind that several of the characters would need lots of makeup to show them aging; the story takes place over the course of about seventy years. So for some of the actors, an age range (assisted by makeup and lighting) of something like forty years will need to be within reach.

Assuming that most of the dialogue will be in English, I’d prefer a mix of about half British actors and half Americans. Given that British English was accented to sound more like modern American than it does today back in the early 1700’s, a blend of the two kinds of accents would be required of just about everyone — but I’d want to give a feeling of old-world-meets-new, and mixing Americans and British would hopefully do that.

And the list of casting choices doesn’t end at my list. But at some point the production would run out of money and this is a pretty expensive list — even if the royalty figures aren’t going to be on the set very long, the story would demand some time of Malkovich, Depp, Hoffman, and Oldman. Especially Malkovich, as Newton is a major figure in the novel. Other figures, though, would be “guest stars,” so if I were going for an “all-star” cast to attract attention to the project, I’d look for people like Dame Judi Dench to make a guest appearance as Queen Anne Stuart, for instance. She’d probably only need to be on the set for one day or so, and it would give her a trifecta of British monarchs, which would be kind of cool — she’s already played Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

Of course, filming something with the epic sweep of The Baroque Cycle would be superlatively difficult and expensive. To do the story justice, each of the three volumes would take at least six hours — so now we’re out of the realm of movies and into the realm of things like series on HBO. If we’re doing that, then there is probably enough material for a full traditional run of five seasons of thirteen one-hour episodes.

Some of the stuff would be pretty hard on the viewers, like the early Royal Society experiments. But HBO and Showtime will tackle stuff like that. It’ll never happen; as I understand it, Neal Stephenson is not interested in licensing the film rights at all. But it’s still fun to think about.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I’ve just started reading Cryptonomicon. I find Stephenson intimidating — his research, erudition. Also annoying: his smugness. But he gives good book.

  2. I find this bit of casting sublimely inspired —I think Stephenson is flat brilliant, and the ‘smug’ comment is the problem of the other reader. I’ve read Cryptonimicon four times: it’s my favorite book. I’m reading the Baroque cycle for the second time and I’m staggered by just how much better it is the second time around. So I’d be a nasty critic if I didn’t think your casting was good — Stephen Hickman

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