Kazuo Ishiguro is known as ‘Ish’ to his friends, as we learned from author Jonathan Coe at a film festival in Bridport, Dorset last night. Coe interviewed Ish, author of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go among others, on the opening night of the From Page to Screen festival before a screening of last year’s Never Let Me Go adaptation.
During the Q and A Ish was asked about the 1993 adaptation of Remains of the Day and he revealed that John Cleese was initially considered for the lead role as butler Mr Stevens which was eventually taken by Anthony Hopkins. Others in the frame were Jeremy Irons (understandable) and Bob Hoskins (“not quite right” in Ishiguro’s own words).
“I’ve always wondered what [the film] would have been like with John Cleese,” said Ish. “I was very excited by the idea.”
At the time Cleese was hot as far as Hollywood was concerned from the success of A Fish Called Wanda and, as Ish diplomatically explained, US studios such as Columbia Pictures (now Sony) which funded Remains of the Day can only ever think of about two or three British actors big enough to take the American stage.
Of watching both film adaptations of his own novels Ishiguro said: “I forgot very quickly that I already knew the story,” which seems to be about as big a compliment as he could pay to the screenwriters Ruth Prawer Jabhvala (Remains of the Day) and Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go). He said it would be “like taking your A’Levels again” and about as much fun for a novelist to adapt their own work for the screen.
This festival is all about film adaptations of the written word and Ishiguro had this to say: “As a culture we [the British] haven’t figured out how to watch adaptations from novels.” Coe wondered whether this is because we constantly compare the film to the novel and vice versa. Ish agreed and suggested that, like a songwriter with a tune, he enjoys seeing other people’s versions of his work but he doesn’t confuse it with his own work.
As for Never Let Me Go I am still confused by the message, if there is one, of both novel and film. In a final interior monologue the narrator Kathy wonders whether the young people raised to donate their organs to medical science live better or worse lives than those who are saved by their donations. Does this translate as, what is the point of living? It’s a question that lots of thinking people want answered and which a few answer in their own ways.