So, we now know that Jeremy Northam is not packing his bags and heading for LA to make more episodes of Miami Medical. It may be that he’s considering a mountain of scripts right now, he could be holidaying his wotsits off somewhere luxurious, or he could be catching up on his ironing, who knows? Maybe he’s already committed to another project, but if he’s not…then he’s available for playing Henry Higgins! Yes, let’s shake the dust off what we thought was a lost opportunity and consider it anew…
The last we heard, Carey Mulligan had been cast as Eliza Doolittle, following Keira Knightley withdrawing from consideration. Mulligan seems to be the young Brit actress du jour, with the Oscar nominated An Education amongst her recent credits. Mulligan is no Audrey Hepburn in terms of her looks (who is?), but she is an excellent actress and I look forward to seeing her in the role.
The other, more worrying, news associated with this project was that Hugh Grant had been approached to play Higgins. Emma Thompson, who has written the adapted screenplay, was reported to be very keen on his inclusion. Grant himself appeared to be filling his pants while making the obligatory humble noises that constitute his career. The man needs the work, there’s no getting away from that fact, but charity casting, while it might have a certain horrific fascination, is not really the best way to make a successful movie. I mean, seriously…HUGH GRANT????
Of course, Rex Harrison made the role of Higgins his own both on stage and in the 1964 film version, and when you think of Harrison, the idea of Grant becomes even more ludicrous. Higgins, whoever interprets him, needs to have a commanding presence and be convincingly an intellectual. The actor who takes on the role must have a natural authority available to him, a finely tuned comic touch (okay, maybe Grant can manage this aspect), he must convince as a romantic lead (which Harrison really never did, being too old by the time he played the role on film), and he needs to be able to sing. ‘But Harrison couldn’t sing’, I hear you cry. True, and if you examine the sheet music, in fact many of the songs for Higgins allow him to speak rather than sing some of the time. Grant may well be able to hum a little, but can he be convincing as an intellectual, or indeed as a romantic lead? I think not… Hugh Grant may be many things, but the sad truth is, he’s really not much of an actor.
No, the obvious choice has to be Jeremy Northam for the role of Higgins. I don’t even need to spend time explaining why beyond reminding you of what an exceptionally gifted and versatile actor he is. So, Emma Thompson and team, get in touch with Jeremy’s agent now, because you might just find he’s available. I can’t speak for his willingness, but I do know it’s a peach of a role for him and it would avoid your movie becoming a terrible train wreck. Allow Hugh to be Col. Pickering (Wilfred Hyde White bumbled in this role very successfully in 1964) and he’ll be happy, and more to the point, you’ll have the makings of an excellent movie.