We Cast The Goldfinch Movie so Hollywood Doesn’t Have To

March 17, 2014 | 15 books mentioned 60 6 min read


coverWe learned earlier this month that Nina Jacobson, a movie producer responsible for the the Hunger Games franchise, among other things, has acquired the rights to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and is looking for a director to make it into a film or mini-series. Lucky for Jacobson, dream-casting the movie version of a book is one of my life’s true passions, and my colleague Edan Lepucki and I hereby submit our ideas for the Goldfinch cast. The process reveals the bizarre extent to which I think I understand the Hollywood casting processes (and how often my first choice is ten years too late), which starlets we think play trashy the best, and how it might be worth it to turn the cast on its head to let Michael B. Jordan play Theo.

[Warning: Our discussion of what will be required to play these characters results in many spoilers.]

Audrey Decker:

imageJanet: It strikes me that almost any beautiful actress past her starlet age could swoop in and play an angelic, sophisticated mother who loved art and New York and whom we will probably see in fuzzy, nostalgic flashbacks for the duration of the film. Ten years ago it would have been Julianne Moore’s in a heartbeat, but now I picture Rachel Weisz or Michelle Monaghan (probably because we all just saw her play a lovely woman who married the wrong guy young in True Detective).

Edan: I love the idea of Rachel Weisz playing this role — she does elegant/maternal very well. The same goes for Kate Winslet. (I’m sorry, but a chair can act better than Michelle Monaghan.) I’d also suggest Kerry Washington for the role; her face can go from assured to vulnerable in a millisecond, and she’s got a powerful presence that both Theo and the audience will grieve.

Imagine, too, a non-white Theo Decker…his outsider status might then take on a whole other dimension…

Larry Decker:

imageJanet: Theo’s father is complicated. At one point he wooed Rachel Weisz up there, and continues to be a charming, charismatic guy, but ends up running schemes in Vegas. The part of me that likes to think I understand Hollywood surmises that it’s not a big enough role for the likes of Ben Affleck or Bradley Cooper, who would both be great but might be too busy on the A list. I could see Josh Brolin or Mark Ruffalo, though. They’ve both got the range and the tragic good looks.

Edan: If Mark Ruffalo knocked on my door right now, I’d open it naked. Yes! Ruffalo! I also could see Peter Krause of Six Feet Under (and Parenthood) fame — he’s handsome enough, and he emits a slight aura of bratty rage that playing Larry Decker would require.


imageJanet: Larry’s girlfriend is introduced as “a strange woman, tan and very fit-looking: flat gray eyes, lined coppery skin, and teeth that went in, with a split between them. Although she was older than my mother, or at any rate older-looking, she was dressed like someone younger: red platform sandals; low-slung jeans; wide belt; lots of gold jewelry. Her hair, the color of caramel straw, was very straight and tattered at the ends; she was chewing gum and a strong smell of Juicy Fruit was coming off her.”

So not Amy Adams, is what I’m saying. I could see Anna Paquin (who already has a gap in her teeth) or Chloe Sevigny taking a fun trip to trashville to play Xandra, or, if they stick to the age described, Rachel Griffiths.

imageEdan: Like Hollywood would ever stick to the age described! I bet the producers cast Elle Fanning, those ageists! Though I love Paquin and Sevigny, Paquin strikes me as too round-faced, and Sevigny is far too rich girl for me to believe her as Xandra. She’d be better off as a Barbour with her George Plimpton-esque mid-Atlantic accent! My pick for this role is Taryn Manning; her meth-head-turned-religious savior in Orange is the New Black is by turns gleeful, hideous, frightening, and humanizing. That girl can trash it up, and she is so fun to watch. [Janet: With Peter Krause as Larry and Rachel Griffiths as Xandra we could have a Six Feet Under reunion on our hands. Think about it.]

Young Theo/Young Boris:

Janet: The first section of the book follows Theo from age 13 to 18, and Boris comes in about halfway through, so it’s hard to know how that will be cast—maybe they’ll shrink the timeline so that one actor can play all those years, because I can’t imagine them getting both a middle school Theo and a high school Theo. Teenage Theo and Boris are also pretty weighty parts, so they can’t just find kids who look like a young version of their leading men to fill in for the first 20 minutes — like Jennifer Garner’s doppelganger in 13 Going on 30. Not that any of this matters, because I’m not familiar with a lot of young teenage actors, so I’ll just name the three I know because of Divergent or The Fault in Our Stars: Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, and Nat Wolff. (Ten years ago: Nicholas Hoult.)

Edan: I have no opinions about man-boy actors. Just don’t cast the teenage son from USA’s Necessary Roughness; I have nightmares about his Ken-doll face.


imageJanet: Theo is an intentionally divisive character. I found myself loving and hating him in equal measure, and getting the wrong actor could push the character too far in either direction. And, like his father, Theo is equally conversant in New York society, the antiques world, a life of crime, and a drug habit, so the actor has to have the same versatility. Andrew Garfield and Joseph Gordon Levitt both came to mind as bankable leading men, but they might be too adorable for Theo. (And can you imagine Joseph Gordon Levitt pining for but never winning Pippa? Hahahaha no.) Our colleague Lydia suggested Adrien Grenier, Adam Brody, and Zachary Quinto, each of whom have varying degrees of edge. My prediction is Jake Gyllenhaal, because I think he’s established enough that a studio would trust him to carry the movie (why am I talking like this?). But my dream actor is Emile Hirsch. He’s that perfect tragic-hero mix of magnetic, melancholy, doomed, but likable, and I’ve been waiting for the rest of America to fall in love with him since Into the Wild.

Edan: You think Joseph Gordon Levitt is that irresistible? [Janet: YES.] I mean, he’s adorable, yes, but he’s also small — he looks short on screen, which must mean he’s a teeny-tiny person. There’s also a strain of nerdery in him that could work for this role and make him less Mr. Cool. However, I love your idea to cast Emile Hirsch — what a phenomenal actor.

imageIf Kerry Washington is cast as the mother, however, might I suggest Donald Glover from Community in this role? Or, the incredible Michael B. Jordan from The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Fruitvale Station? (Hell, cast Jordan anyway! His eyes — they convey innocence, rage, curiosity and longing all at once!)


Janet: Oh Boris, you lying knave. I can’t get past the idea of how great a younger Leonardo DiCaprio would be, so I have no ideas. Lydia astutely suggested Paul Dano. But I know you have a strong opinion…

imageEdan: Adam Driver is the only man for this role. That pale skin! Those jug ears! He looks like a boy raised on vodka! Driver continually surprises me as Hannah Horvath’s boyfriend on Girls. He imbues every line of dialogue with unexpected nuance, and his physical presence is fascinating, discomfiting, sexy, comic, and tragic. Plus, he’d do something great with Boris’s accent!

Young Pippa:

Janet: This will probably be some child actress we’ve never seen before, but Kiernan Shipka would be great.

Edan: I vote for an unknown here.


Janet: Saintly, delicate Pippa is the European boarding school-educated flautist whom Theo doesn’t know how to quit. I think Emma Watson would do nicely. And she kind of looks like Kiernan Shipka!

imageEdan: I’m the only person (on Tumblr) who hated the film adaptation of Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Emma Watson’s bad American accent was part of that hatred. Shipka can have it. Or perhaps Saoirse Ronan (from Atonement and Hanna) is available? She’s like a younger, prettier, and more ethereal version of myself, so of course I’m rooting for her always.


imageJanet: Widely decried as the most two-dimensional character in the book, lovely old Hobie could basically be played by any amicable actor who has time on their hands. I thought of Michael Gambon, who is most likely too old. Jeff Bridges or William Hurt would also be good, although both too American. Screw it, let’s give it to Cumberbatch.

Edan: I would have loved to have cast Philip Seymour Hoffman in this role. If we want bona fide English, I’d go for Steve Coogan. Everyone loves Coogan, right?

Kitsey “Kitten” Barbour:

imageJanet: Theo’s high-society, two-timing fiancee. Leighton Meester or no one at all.

Edan:  I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, but I’ve read the gossip rags for many years, so I am all about Ms. Meester and her snobby, beautiful face. She looks like she was born wearing a sweater set and pearls.

Various Barbours and background players:

Janet: Mrs. Barbour is a surprisingly complex minor character that you’d just have to be elegant and icy to play. Jennifer Connelly, perhaps (ten years ago: Joan Allen). I have a sinking feeling Paul Giamatti will be Mr. Barbour because he shows up everywhere, and I don’t have any strong opinions about their children other than Kitten. Matt Dillon could show up as the guy who comes to threaten Theo’s dad with a baseball bat.

imageEdan: Let’s just call Meryl and see if she’ll play Mrs. Barbour, though I also love Connelly’s skinny-woman-ice. I’d love to see Robert Englund play a member of the criminal art underworld. Oh, and of course: a little known actor named Omar Little would be perfect as Popchik. (I’m Omar’s momager; call me if you’re interested!)

is a staff writer for The Millions. Janet is a freelance writer and semi-professional baker living in Chicago. Her writing has appeared in The Awl, The AV Club, the Chicago Reader, and Chicago Magazine. She is the co-host of YouTube's The Book Report and blogs about presidential biographies at At Times Dull. Follow her @sojanetpotter.


  1. I own this book but haven’t read it yet. This article makes me want to throw it in the trash unread.

  2. wow, Anna Paquin as Xandra is 100% dead on.

    Audrey Decker = Vera Farmiga

    Hobie = old Harrison Ford

  3. Interesting — I actually thought of Vera Farmiga for Mrs. Barbour before dumping her for Jennifer Connelly.

    @LaurenAWaterman on twitter suggested Stephen Fry for Hobie, and I think she nailed it.

  4. I think your sentence should read “…cast Michael B. Jordan as Theo.”. “Let” isn’t the right verb for choosing, in my humble opinion. If he is your choices then cast him, don’t let him play the part.

  5. @Edan: Emile Hirsch is 5’7″ so he’s actually 2 inches shorter than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s over 5’9″.

    I agree with Janet. Gordon-Levitt is beautiful. And a phenomenal actor, too. Tremendous in movies like Mysterious Skin.

  6. I think Emile Hirsch is spot on, and rachel weisz too. I like Saoirse Ronan as well. Someone blond and pale needs to play kitsey tho. maybe amanda seyfried?

    I imagined Hobie as Brendan Gleeson, and it made me love him all the more. I like ruffalo, but I think someone more like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) better suits the t-shirt and white blazer vibe theo’s dad had going.

  7. Please, please, PLEASE, by whatever gods there be, Hollywood, DO NOT make this into a movie! There’s just too much that would have to be cut/condensed/glossed over to fit into a two-hour package.

    But it would make an *amazing* mini-series: I can see two or possibly three seasons, based on the settings: 1) New York, 2) Las Vegas, 3) New York again and after.

    And trying to avoid spoilers here, once the plot involving the initial McGuffin (of which the painting is a classic example) has been resolved, *certain characters* could lend themselves to further adventures/quests/explorations of hope, despair and how one deals with them.

  8. Main thing is I don’t think the Audrey/Pippa suggestions are magicky enough, they’re too straight-ahead pretty. Need more magicks.

    Audrey Decker: Audrey Tautou or Rooney Mara
    Pippa: Alyson Hannigan or Hallee Hirsh… even Morgan Smith Goodwin?
    Hobie: Roger Rees (seriously, he has exactly the right range and expressions)
    Mr. Barbour: Chris Parnell
    Cowboy collector: Matthew McConaughey

  9. I thought Theo’s mother had very fair skin with green eyes, that’s what made her so show stopping. Theo has his mothers features of green eyes and fair skin who looks like Harry Potter with his glasses. Not sure how two black actors, Kerry Washington and Donald Glover are going to be able to pull off these rolls without loosing the interest of the readers. I hope they cast it realistically.

  10. Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) should play Boris! I imagined him as Boris the whole time I was reading, and he’s actually young enough to play teens through late 20s.

  11. Rachel Weisz as Audrey Decker is so so so right! I like Ewan McGregor for Theo’s dad. He has that right mix of charm and smarm.

    The movie though, hinges on young Theo and Boris. They can only be someone totally unknown for it to work

  12. I have a hard time imagining Pippa as anyone other than Mia Wasikowska.
    Saoirse Ronan is a good second choice though.

  13. if you’re still taking ideas, here are mine:

    Hobie: Robbie Coltrane (I know, too obvious a choice), I like Marisa Tomei for Theo’s mother, I like Blythe Danner for Mrs. Barbour, what about Wil Wheaton or Wes Bentley for Boris? Theo’s dad could be Greg Kinnear, he does handsome sleaze really well…

  14. For Mrs. Barbour the most “elegant weasel” I can think of is Tilda Swinton.
    Maybe Dakota Fanning or Amanda Seyfried as Kitsey? I had a hard time picturing her.
    Mia Wasikowska (with red hair) as Pipa.
    Anna Paquin as Xandra is great. I also picture Isla Fisher’s character in The Great Gatsby…or Johnny Depp’s ex wife, Vanessa Paradis but I don’t know if she acts.
    Stephen Fry is also my pick for Hobie.

  15. My partner and I are laughing at how spot on so many of these suggestions are! Our own conversation before I googled for this included Leonardo DiCaprio for Boris (although Adam from Girls and Ezra Miller are probably better really), Rachel Weisz for Audrey, and Jake Gyllenhall for Theo…

    We first thought of Donald Sutherland for Hobie, but I love the idea of Harrison Ford too. Mark Ruffallo would be a great Larry Decker, and Anna Paquin as Xandra- brilliant. I was thinking perhaps Christina Applegate?

    For Pippa, we reckoned Isla Fisher. Mrs Barbour could be Julianne Moore.

    I love this game!

  16. Adult Theo = Nicholas Hoult
    Adult Boris = Ezra Miller
    Hobie = John Lithgow
    Xandra = Amy Ryan (See her in Gone Baby Gone)
    Larry Decker = Bryan Cranston
    Mrs Barbour = Cate Blanchett (Meryl Streep is way too old)
    Kitsy Barbour = Sophie Turner (Sansa Game of Thrones)

  17. Theo — Tobey Maguire

    Boris — Adam Driver

    Pippa — Rachel Hurd-Wood or Jane Levy

    Hobie — Christoph Waltz

    Kitsey — Diane Kruger

    Mrs. Barbour — Cate Blanchett

  18. Tarissa Farmiga would be a great Pipa- old or young. I think Meester’s a little off for Kitsey though

  19. I’ve been trying to cast Xandra, based on the Audio book reader’s voice interpretation and I keep coming up with BIG ANG!

  20. How about Anthony Hopkins as Hobie? And maybe even John Lithgow for Mr. Barbour rather than as Hobie?

  21. I actually like the idea Jennifer Connelly as Audrey Decker… She’s who I imagined as I read. Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Barbour. I’d like John Lithgow as Hobie. Zachary Quinto would make a good Theo.

  22. I’d root for Mia Wasikowska for Pippa (No, Emma Watson would not do. She’s way too pretty in the standard sense). Also, isn’t Kitsey supposed to be pale and blonde?
    Either Julianne Moore or Cate Blanchett for Mrs. Barbour would be perfection. And I love the person who came up with Adam Driver as Boris: it’s so oddly fitting!
    Also, I can’t wait to see Popper on screen. He’s adorable :)

  23. I am really sorry, but I cannot imagine other person than Victor being Hobie:) He would be sensitive and gentle there. and Mrs.Barbour would be Cate Blanchett indeed. Question to all: Would you cast Liv Tyler?

  24. I havent read through all the comments and I maybe be a bit rose-coloured here – but Hobie was a foreboding gentle beast. What about Robbie Coltrane (grey haired). Geoffrey Rush would also be GREAT. And Maybe its the red hair, but what about Bonnie Wright Pippa? Adrian Brody for adult Boris. Oh just googled ANTON YELCHIN – YES FOR BORIS!

  25. You propose to ‘turn the cast on its head’ and ‘let’ Theo and his mother be played by black actors, as if the only other obvious and logical alternative is to have them be portrayed by white actors.

    You have also apparently forgotten that Audrey Decker is half native-american. In your ‘enlightened’ proposal for a diverse cast (wow, how innovative of you, you remembered that talented non-white actors exist), you have failed to accurately represent the only important poc character in the novel.

  26. Ok i like most of your choices but I always thought Carey Mulligan would be a perfect Pippa.

    I would love to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Theo though Jake Gyllenhaal sounds reasonable enough! and looks good with glasses.

    And for Boris, why not Kit Harrington?

  27. I never make comments online.
    But I felt really compelled to add a suggestion for the role of Boris-
    Irish actor Robert Sheehan. If you’ve never heard of him google him- he is exactly how I see Boris. He is great in the TV series Love/Hate.
    If Adam Driver was cast in the role I would be hugely disappointed.
    Ezra Miller would be a good runner up.

  28. Theo Decker- Dylan O’Brien for the mid-twenties portion (looks the part with glasses and his SUPER hot facial hair he rocked a couple months ago.)
    He’s a great angsty actor when he isn’t being funny, smokes too.

    Boris- young:??????? old: Grigori Dobrygin (idk he is Russian and looks the part don’t hurt me)

    Mrs.Barbour- Elizabeth Banks? (her look in the 2014 movie, Little Accidents)

    Hobie- no idea, maybe an unkown? Jeff Bridges?

    Kitsey- Amber Heard is perfect…….. literally perfect

    Pippa- Lauren Ambrose or Mia Wasikowska

    That’s how I pictured it:)

  29. Hobie is 60ish , 6’4″ ….my friend, actor James Luse is perfect for the part…I just emailed him and advised his agent look into it….I hope he takes the suggestion.

  30. For Hobie: Conleth Hill, the award winning actor who plays Varys (“Master of Spys”) in Game of Thrones. Of all the characters in The Goldfinch, there was only one who I could picture exactly – and Hobie/Conleth Hill was it. This actor is a master of the still, wise, and subtle gentleness that I think Hobie’s part demands. His age should be right, too, by the time this movie gets made. It’s funny, years ago when I read Jurassic Park before it became a film, there was just one character that I could precisely visualize – and sure enough, Jeff Goldblum was cast to play that very roll just as I’d imagined. Maybe lightning does strike twice!

  31. For Theo (young): Asa Butterfield
    For Boris : Dane Dehaan (Adam Driver/Ezra Miller)
    In the movie “Kill your darlings” even though am not a big fan of Daniel Radcliffe, but they both looked like Theo and Boris to me…Lu & Ginsy
    For Mrs. Barbour: Laura Linney
    for Larry Decker: Michael Madsen
    For Audrey Decker: Rachel Weizs
    Kitsey Barbour: Amber Heard would be a good choice

  32. Audrey Decker – Jennifer Connelly
    Larry Decker – Josh Brolin
    Xandra – Michelle Williams
    Theo Decker (older) – Emile Hirsch
    Boris (older) – Dane DeHaan
    Mrs. Barbour – Cate Blanchett
    Mr. Barbour – David Strathairn
    Kitsey Barbour – Alicia Vikander
    Platt Barbour – Paul Dano
    Hobie – Tim Robbins
    Pippa (older) – Elle Fanning
    Welty – David Paymer
    Bobo Silver – Billy Bob Thornton

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