A site to promote the up-coming Audio series.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore…

How many times have we all heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same…”? While that could be true for almost anything that my grandparents might have once said, it is also most certainly true of my recent attempts as the writer of Flashback to reunite the cast who first brought those crazy characters to life over a decade ago. But in saying that, I have also come to realise that a lot of new ideas and new directions were just as necessary to make the project a firm reality as revisiting the old, nostalgic stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. Seeing the majority of the old cast together again will be wonderful – and to their credit, they are just as excited about doing this as I am … (some of them, I’m informed… are even more so!) But then you see, why wouldn’t they be excited? All the material is new. Brand new. Brand spankin’ new! I have deliberately chosen not to recycle lines from the old video script, and I am hopeful the actors will find that the characters they remember are now far more three-dimensional than they were back then. So instead of being like stepping back in time, I believe this new version of the story will feel more like a sort of homecoming.

Change is the single most important element to any character in fiction because by nature, they have to change as the story is told. Not change as in become a different person altogether, although that angle has informed many a sci-fi film script, (just ask George Lucas). No, rather character change should be more realistic, as in the realisation that their actions in the story have consequence and that the results of those actions are played out in order to build upon the character’s character… so to speak. While characters in a feature film may not seem to change all that much, (though in fact they do), if you look at say, a long-running series, you’ll see more obvious changes from season one to season x: characters grow up, they grow older, grow wiser or maybe darker… whatever it is, they just don’t stay the same. A story’s events must change the characters – that is how a story is told. Deaths, births, marriages, relationships and jobs, all contribute to the ever-changing personalities of even our most loved characters.

Take the title of this blog entry: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. For anyone old enough to remember it, this wonderful film from 1974, starred the amazing Ellen Burstyn. For me, I can still recall viewing it on television years after its theatrical run. It was around the time that the rest of my family was watching a sitcom called Alice, starring Linda Lavin. I remember at the time there was something very familiar about the film and as the plot unfolded, Ellen Burstyn started working in the very same diner that Linda Lavin was working in, and in fact, she had the same friends, although they were portrayed by completely different actors. To my ten-year-old mind, I couldn’t comprehend exactly what was going on… was this some sort of parallel world version? Which was the real Alice and why didn’t Mel, the diner’s owner, realise he employed shifty doppelgängers? As it turns out, they were both Alice, and what was even more startling to my pre-teen mind was that this was a concept I would have to get used to if I were to enjoy any form of television or movie serial in the future.

As a lot of my friends who used to avidly inhale the American super soaps would later tell me, changing actors was about as commonplace as changing underpants, and one of the more bizarre shifts occurred in Dynasty with the characters of Fallon and her sister Amanda, in that both actresses are replaced during the series run, even to the extent of switching trans-Atlantic accents! As a non-super soap fan, I recall my biggest disappointment with recasting at the time had to have been Judith Baldwin replacing the foxy Tina Louise (who did later appear in the super soap Dallas), as Ginger in Rescue from Gilligan’s Island. Oh, my boyhood naiveté!

As usual my good readers, you may think that I digress in thoughts, but rest assured there is method to my madness. You see, in the original Flashback, there was this character, and she was called Alice… (sound familiar?) Now, Alice in my opinion, was a highly underdeveloped character, confined to some rather bizarrely trippy sequences. I don’t think Michael had really thought about her role in the story above and beyond being some hippy dippy peacenik Janis Joplin-esque type chick in the parallel world. She was like the parallel world’s version of the media, as she wandered around carrying an old fashioned microphone with no connections to any machinery. I suppose Michael thought of her as a cross between a roving reporter and a lounge singer, though she didn’t have a counterpart in our world, which in itself opened up an interesting prospect that was never explored. Basically she was an enigma, and what Michael downplayed about her, I later grew more and more interested in exploiting.

In the video, Alice was played by the super cool Caroline Azar. Caroline had come to acting from a music background – she was part of a Toronto-based all-woman punk band called Fifth Column, and I absolutely loved them when I was in university. I got to know Caroline through various contacts and we found that through much wine drinking and deep chat, we were pretty much on the same page artistically in many respects. It just seemed a good idea when it came to cast the still undefined role of Alice in The Flashback, to ask Caroline to portray her. Like the version of Alice in the script, Caroline was kooky yet straight-talking. Her portrayal could walk that fine line between being trustworthy and having a potentially deeper, darker secret. I thought that with someone like Caroline playing her, the meagre part of Alice might actually carry some weight; that Caroline might be able to instil a sense of something not quite right about the character that might just come across on screen. At night I dreamt about all the possibilities the character had for future development, but by day poor Caroline was presented with some pretty dire and wishy-washy lines to learn. Even now, I still feel that Caroline’s abilities were completely under-used in the video, and that was because we as writers didn’t know who the character was yet and weren’t able to give her a proper three dimensional illustration to work with. I completely blame myself for the oversight and it was the single most important element I was determined to correct when I started writing the new series.

So what of Caroline, you ask? Is she part of the returning cast of characters for the new series? Well, I wish I had an answer for that question that wasn’t so selfish, but I don’t. The truth is, the character that called herself Alice on the screen is the furthest thing from what I really wanted Alice to be – and that is certainly NO criticism of Caroline’s performance at all, for she was simply amazing given the material she had to put up with. But I needed a clean slate for the new Alice, and this re-envisioned Alice had to be something extremely different. And just as Linda Lavin had done by not simply stepping into Ellen Burstyn’s shoes, the new Alice needed to be created from the ground up.

In my head, Alice was always meant to be a dual character: she had her “real” world self and her “parallel” world self. She was part of the intellectual elite, a professional, a high-roller, someone to whom the acquisition of “power” was something of a birth-rite. She needed to have a commanding presence and just couldn’t be the hippy, drugged-out Woodstockian we saw in the video at all. And what was more, the parallel Alice, (or Malice as I named her), had to be cold and calculating, a type of super-villain and someone very familiar to my childhood mind. You see, I had always kind of admired and had often seen this type of arch character in other stories, both on television and in the cinema. She was the ultimate baddie – she was the Evil Queen, the Wicked Super-Human Criminal and even the Nasty Reptile Commander. If there was someone who was like my dream Malice then that someone was Sarah Douglas, and as we say in Canada, there were no two doubts about it –  hers was the acting pantheon I had always wanted to base the characters of Alice/Malice on.

I think then that it was a happy coincidence that here I was writing this new Flashback series and envisioning the revamped Alice/Malice characters as someone like Sarah Douglas, while all the while knowing that a good friend of mine was good friends with the real Sarah Douglas! Can’t you just picture it now… in the back of my scheming little mind… the possibility of snagging pretty much the single most ideal person for the role I was writing? Wouldn’t it be something? Wouldn’t it be cool? Wouldn’t it be a bizarre twist of fate? I mean, if you’ve read my previous blog entries you’ll know of my connection to a film called Rollerball… and… well, read Sarah Douglas’ biography on-line and you’ll see what I mean. Fate! (Oh, sure, isn’t everything fate?)

So, who is this enigmatic Sarah Douglas anyway? Well, after successfully managing to suppress my fan boy side in order to allow the professional side to rise to the surface, I’m just starting to get to know the person who is Sarah. But from what I’ve seen so far, she is marvellous company, witty, straight-talking, extremely gracious and very interested in practically everything. She has an enquiring mind and is eager to connect with people who are artistically inclined. What I find personally fascinating is that, while not a huge science fiction fan herself, she has dedicated a large portion of her acting career to portraying characters in science fiction and fantasy. A bit of a contradiction you might think? Oh, not at all. Sarah herself has talked in interviews about the reasons why she’s accepted the roles and how they offered her unique and thrilling character-types to play. In my opinion, for each one of those characters, Sarah has managed to masterfully bring them to life in such an intense, mesmerising and bewitching way. It is hard to imagine anyone else doing half as good a job because she has guided the evolution of those characters, bringing depth to roles that could easily have been nothing more than mere stereotypes if left in lesser acting hands. On screen she is simply iconic and I remember being more than transfixed by her in several movies. She’s also very popular amongst my friends because she’s done the obligatory American super-soap as well! I guess one might say that Sarah is something of a character actor because her roles would, on the surface all seem to have a similar streak of ruthless charm running through them. But if you look closely at the subtleties she brings to each part and the sheer breadth of character-types she’s portrayed, I think you will find that there is much more to her talents – not that there is anything wrong with character actors, mind!  Some of my favourite actors have been classed as character actors such as Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, Max von Sydow, and Christopher Walkin to name just a handful. Without these wonderful actors, none of our favourite films might ever have had the same resonance or timelessness. (Can you tell that I love movies? And can you see the links?) Anyway, back to Sarah and Alice…

What I find interesting is that Sarah herself was replaced by a doppelgänger on Falcon Crest, after she left the series. While I’m not a fan of soaps because I find that they are generally too arch for my tastes, I did recently sit down to watch a number of scenes featuring Sarah’s character, Pamela Lynch. I was also shown her replacement for one episode, Martine Beswick and I have to say, the level of difference is so incredibly evident even twenty-five years on. While I assume that most soap characters are meant to be slightly over the top, so as to keep the heightened sense of drama going, I found that all the subtlety, grace and composure brought to the character of Pamela Lynch by Sarah was immediately sucked dry and replaced with a wide-eyed mad woman who wouldn’t have been out of place muttering the phrase, “Curses, foiled again,” under her breath. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t all Martine’s fault given how brilliant she was in her two James Bond films, but I could hardly believe that it was meant to be the same character even with the excuse of a massive face lift. I mean, did plastic surgery alter her brain pattern as well? Regardless, that is well in the past now and it is the future to which I’m looking. It just strikes me as funny, those little connections…

So, who is Alice/Malice then? What has she become? To tell you too much would be to give away huge chunks of the plot and I’d much rather let Sarah’s wonderfully rich voice lead listeners down that deliciously dramatic path. Suffice it to say that I think Sarah is the perfect casting for Alice and I’m more than chuffed that she agreed to do it. I have great admiration for her and for her career choices and I’m rather flattered that she finds the scripts involving enough to want to take part. My only regret is that due to geography and budget, Sarah won’t be working directly with the rest of the Canadian cast – this time. Her part, as well as a few other roles will be recorded separately in the UK and then integrated into the finished series to sound like all the characters are in the same space… ah the magic of editing!

But then again, who knows what the future will have in store? If Flashback is successful enough to warrant a return to Alt.World, then maybe… well, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here, aren’t I?

Stay tuned for more Flashback news, interviews and updates as we head into the first round of recording sessions starting in November.

2 responses

  1. Sitting here in Hollywood and the rain is pouring down but I feel wonderfully warm and content after reading this generous blog.

    I am delighted to bring my twist to your adventures and as Ed has said just all too sorry not to be able to meet the original cast.

    I look forward to getting to grips with our Alice and I am excited by the challenge. The last dual role I played was in Stargate and I portrayed Garshaw who went from meanie to sweetie in a heart beat…but this is audio so even more taxing. HURRAY!!!

    October 17, 2010 at 6:17 PM

    • Everything I write in this Blog is the honest truth!

      October 17, 2010 at 7:34 PM

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