Last month, I started a character breakdown of potential major roles in a possible Miss Saigon adaptation of the musical for film and started with the non-Vietnamese characters and even included “The Engineer” into the round up.
Next up we have the Vietnamese characters which includes Kim, Thuy, and the callgirls from Dreamland… so let’s start with the elephant in the room: Kim.
Oh… and as a fair warning… I am going to be on a major soap box when it comes to Kim. So please just bear with me and humor me while reading this…
As mentioned in my original Miss Saigon Wish List, I will (personally) only be content with the casting of Kim iff (if and only if):
[...] The future production team of the Miss Saigon film takes a page from the Memoirs of a Geisha film production [...] Although there is a lot of hype surrounding Jessica Sanchez and she has the blessing of Lea Salonga it will not work if the characters that are suppose to be Vietnamese natives are speaking near-perfect English.
How is that not appropriate? Well according to Kim herself:
I’m seventeen, and I’m new here today
The village I come from seems so far away
Not only that but when “The Engineer” introduces Kim to the other callgirls he also mentions:
I found this new girl, get her dressed
From the country untouched
She is fresh from the country where (for anyone that has ever been to Việt Nam) chances are high that her English is not only weak, but her accent is very strong. Granted… if EVERYONE in the film was one nationality (like how everyone in Les Miserables was French) I wouldn’t be jumping off the deep end with everybody have to have an accent or weak English… because everyone is from the same cultural background… in this case, we have two very different cultures colliding. What works for the stage isn’t going to work for film from my vantage point.
So what would I consider to be the most appropriate? Looking back at my original post:
A Vietnamese American, perhaps someone along the lines of Jacqueline Nguyen the believed first Vietnamese-American to ever play the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. If a touring production was able to find Jacqueline Nguyen there must be someone comparable or better if the net was tossed wide enough.
There are major Vietnamese communities in Chicago, Orange County (there is after a several block radius also know as “Little Saigon” there), and Texas. Tap into those areas… you’d be surprised with the results. Granted, considering that Memoirs of a Geisha did not cast the lead with a Japanese actress they did have a point as to why:
A director is only interested in casting someone he believes is appropriate for a role. For instance, my character had to go from age 15 to 35; she had to be able to dance, and she had to be able to act, so he needed someone who could do all that. I also think that regardless of whether someone is Japanese or Chinese or Korean, we all would have had to learn what it is to be a geisha, because almost nobody today knows what that means–not even the Japanese actors on the film.
Anyway… I’m getting off my soapbox.
He eventually becomes part of the Việt Minh, which would mean that his English could be pretty poor. Also he is most likely a Vietnamese national… not only that but according to the lyrics:
[...] We were promised at thirteen
The woman I’ve become is not the same
That promise made by your father I will claim when we win
To break a vow of your parents is worse than a sin
My parents got themselves killed in the week you changed side
If there were promises all of them died when they died
Typically country folk arrange marriages with their neighbors… and taking a similar approach as with Kim above there really isn’t much question as to how Thuy should be cast. Anyway… I am not touching that soap box.
CALLGIRLS: Gigi, Mimi, Yvette, Yvonne
How much do you guys want to bet that the callgirls’ names are no where near what their real names probably are? In any case there is a lot of flexibility that can happen with casting here. Yvette and Yvonne are French in original so they could be closer to “The Engineer” in the sense that they look Eurasian.
They all appear to have been part of Dreamland for quite some time, so their “mastery” of the English language is stronger than that of Kim’s or Thuy’s. However, their accents still need to be rather strong… though one could get away with them having a weaker accent than that of Kim’s and Thuy’s. It might even been their worthwhile to have Yvette and/or Yvonne to have more of a French accent since there were schools throughout Việt Nam where French was the primary language (how do I know this? I have family members whose primary education were in a French primary school… so don’t rail at me. ).
Then again there isn’t much that we know of the callgirls of Dreamland, except for “The Movie in Their Minds” as it were, this could be rectified in the film with a couple of additional songs, or a reworking of the script / book… but really as long as they stay true to what I mentioned with Kim above and apply it to the callgirls (with a little more flexibility thrown in) it will be ok… for the most part.
So this is round two of the Miss Saigon Character Wish List… which all the main characters / players already mentions what’s left? Well I am sure you guys are curious as to what other parts could be available for the taking? In Miss Saigon Characters (Wish List: Round Three), I will personally take the time to look through the scripts I have on hand and point out cameos that are worth a look-see.