With 1,079 pages, 543,709 words, and innumerable readers who give up on the tenth page out of sheer confusion, Infinite Jest is an unlikely candidate for a screen adaptation. But Mike Schur (of The Office, The Good Place, and Parks and Rec fame) holds the rights, and he intends to use them. Finally, we will see Marathe and Steeply debating North America’s political future while watching the sun rise over the Arizona desert. We’ll see a friendly game of Eschaton devolve on a snowy day into warfare, the map becoming the territory, the imagined violence becoming all too real. And, with any luck, we in #HalulisNation will get to see Michael Pemulis shotgun some weed into the waiting lips of Hal Incandenza, the Hamlet to his Horatio. I am nothing if not an optimist. Let’s dreamcast this baby, baby.
Disclaimer: I’m represented by Bonnie Nadell, who represented David Foster Wallace throughout his career, and presumably sold the film rights to Schur. I have absolutely no authority here, though. Unless Schur, like, calls me up and gives me some. Which is highly unlikely, because the only film writing I’ve ever done was that one time I wrote a feature-length Spider-Man screenplay wherein Peter Parker goes to group therapy in a synagogue before coming out as bisexual.
Don Gately – Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo is currently getting raves for his role as an unhinged pimp in Zola, the movie-based-on-a-Twitter thread that I’ve been dying to see for years and will have to die to see for a couple more weeks, at least, because all the movie theatres are closed here in Toronto owing to the coronavirus, and the distributors hate making money and have refused to throw it up on YouTube or wherever so I can rent it. Anyway! Raves for his role as the villain of Zola, but raves, too, for his role as Rue’s gentle AA sponsor in Euphoria.
What does this tell me? He has the range.
What will any actor taking on the role of Don Gately need? The range, darling.
Gately is a great big brick of a man who would’ve been an NFL quarterback if he hadn’t dropped out of high school due to his inability to comprehend or care about Ethan Frome and instead gotten into Dilaudid and cat burglary. He’s also the beating heart of this book, struggling to stay clean after a catastrophic fight puts him in the hospital sans painkillers. Domingo can do it all and make us love him, I’m sure. We’ll just need to grab him a Prince Valiant wig.
Joelle Van Dyne – fka twigs
The actress playing the leading role in a lethally entertaining film, the radio hostess captivating Metro Boston with lists of esoteric medical conditions and warped Bible verses, the veiled enigma who captures Orin Incandenza’s heart and then Don Gately’s — all of this sounds, to my mind, like a perfect fit for fka twigs, who has made a career of fusing her beauty with the bizarre. She’s more than proven her capability to plumb Joelle’s emotional depths in her own art about love and loss. Does she act? Who cares! Neither did Joelle, before J.O.I. plucked her from obscurity and cast her as the lead in his lethally entertaining film. fka twigs the only option for me. She is Joelle.
Hal Incandenza – Tony Revolori or Forrest Goodluck
Any time you ask guys to fancast Infinite Jest, they’ll be like “Michael Cera!” or “The kid from Moonrise Kingdom!” forgetting, apparently, that Hal is described as “radiantly dark” and “the only extant Incandenza who” — I’m sorry — “looks in any way ethnic.” So I’m going to be very innovative here and propose that Hal actually be played by the kid from The Grand Budapest Hotel, Tony Revolori, who brought real sensitivity and trembling anxiety to the role of Zero the Lobby Boy, both essential Halian qualities. We could also go with Forrest Goodluck, who appeared in both The Miseducation of Cameron Post and The Revenant, if we want to bring some queer flair and existential dread to Hal, which I certainly do. Of the two, Goodluck is giving me more tennis prodigy energy, whereas Revolori projects more of the smoking-weed-covertly-and-compulsively-down-in-the-pump-room vibe, so I’m on the fence here.
James O. Incandenza – Pedro Pascal
Are you tired of being nice? Don’t you just want to go apeshit? Playing the troubled filmmaker J.O.I. would give Pedro Pascal the opportunity to get really fucking freaky with it, right at the height of his action-hero powers. This is a great big meaty role with heavy downward spiral at its heart, but a lot of levity, too, and that’s always been Pascal’s bread and butter. He’d kill it. In a microwave.
Avril Incandenza – Jayma Mays
Take Mays’ character from Glee, tilt her just one or two degrees away from Pollyanna and toward sociopathy, and you have Avril. Wallace accomplished the incredible task, in writing Avril, of making her behaviour so sprightly and comic that her sons don’t even recognize it as emotional abuse until they’ve been living under its boot for a couple of decades. I’d love to see Jayma Mays turn the type she plays so well into a wicked funhouse mirror of itself.
Orin Incandenza – Johnny Manziel
As the womanizing football phenom who has quite literally everything before he hubristically destroys his own potential and ignites a bloody international conflict — is there even another choice? Johnny Manziel is fascinating to me; if you become the first freshman ever to win the Heisman, you’re simply not supposed to be playing indoor football in Duluth a decade later. What the hell happened? The answer is simple, and heartbreaking: Manziel revealed in 2018 that he’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which casts his years of run-ins with the police and his struggles with substance abuse in a new light. There is not a human being alive who better embodies the themes of Infinite Jest than Johnny goddamn Manziel.
Mario Incandenza – ???
I’m stumped. I thought about Brad Williams — super funny, but a little too intense for Mario, who is a true cinnamon roll — and then I thought about Peter Dinklage, who’s a better fit at least, like, dispositionally, but is also a good thirty years too old. We’ll have to do a full-out nationwide casting call when the time comes. A reality show. Infinite Zest for Life: The Search for Mario Incandenza.
Hugh/Helen Steeply – Bob the Drag Queen
If anyone can bring warmth and humanity to the complex and, shall we say, problematique role of Steeply, it’s the outrageously talented Bob. I thought about Bianca del Rio for a second, too, but no: it has to be Bob. She’s got the range to play Chocolate Chip Cookie and Belize; she can dig into Steeply and find the vital, pulsing human pieces necessary to make this character, a male spy who steals Orin’s heart while going undercover as a woman, something more than cruel parody.
Remy Marathe – Kenneth Mitchell
I believe representation matters. I believe in extending opportunities to actors who’ve been denied the chance to appear onscreen due to societal prejudice. I believe that marginalized young people need mirrors in media, the better to imagine themselves as heroes. Except when it comes to the Quebecois. According to Wikipedia, Kenneth Mitchell was born in Toronto, attended the University of Guelph, and discovered his love of acting at a summer camp in rural Minden, Ontario. I can find no evidence that he speaks French, nor that he’s ever crossed the provincial border into Quebec. My only goal re: adapting Infinite Jest is to spur a wave of Quebec separatist picketing; casting the thoroughly Anglophone Mitchell as Marathe will put us on the right… track.
Michael Pemulis – Timothée Chalamet
I rest my case.
Ortho Stice – Alden Ehrenreich
He got done so, so dirty by the Disney machine. It breaks my heart that he hasn’t worked since that dumb fucking Han Solo movie. Did you see him in Hail Caesar? Did you think, as I did, that you were witnessing the birth of a new Hollywood icon? Let’s give him another chance. Let’s give him Ortho Stice: the unassuming Midwestern boy being menaced by the vengeful wraith of Pedro Pascal, bringing that “would that it were so simple” energy to the extended period of time he’ll spend supernaturally stuck to a window.
John Wayne – Jaeden Martell
I chose Jaeden Martell for his capacity to project an air of vague menace. The undisputed top dog of the Enfield Tennis Academy and a heavily disputed double agent in the cold war between the Office of Unspecified Services and les assassins en fauteuils roulants, John Wayne speaks not a one of Infinite Jest‘s 543,709 words. But you feel his presence deeply, chillingly, whenever he enters the scene. When he finally does, off the page, make his true feelings known, it’s a shock to the system. Jaeden Martell is eighteen years old and already being typecast as an alt-right murderer, so I think he’ll be a good fit here, you know, standing guard in a mask while Hal and Don go at J.O.I.’s grave.
Randy Lenz – Joe Lo Truglio
Remember that scene in Superbad when he hits Jonah Hill with his car and then is like, “Please don’t call the cops, I’ll do whatever you want. Here’s seven dollars. You want alcohol? I can get you alcohol.” Exactly.
Johnny Gentle – Michael Bublé
Look, it’s him or Harry Connick Jr., and it’s way funnier if the Famous Crooner who forcibly assimilates Canada into the United States is Canadian himself.
Kate Gompert – Zendaya
In the role of the recovering addict who delivers the novel’s most moving and crucial reflections on addiction and suicidal ideation, I choose… the actress who just won an Emmy for delivering our generation’s most moving and crucial portrayal of a suicidal addict. No-brainer.
Millicent Kent – Danielle MacDonald
I thought Dumplin’ was a perfect fucking movie. Like, I don’t think I breathed for the entire first hour. MacDonald was a star in that movie, and she was a star in Unbelievable, too. Millicent is perhaps too small a role for an actor of her calibre, but I think she’d bring real charm and comedy chops to the U.S.S.’s big moment with Mario.
Eric Clipperton – Jack Dylan Grazer
I spent the entirety of We Are Who We Are wondering if he was about to snap and kill someone, which is the energy we need in Clipperton, the kid who soars to the top of the tennis rankings by playing with a gun to his head.
Pat Montesian – Regina Hall
Pat Montesian is a recovering addict who devotes her life to the care and keeping of other recovering addicts. She’s tough, but gentle; a fortress, but a well of empathy; a lover of people, but moreso of dogs. In the novel’s most violent scene, an epic knock-down-drag-out brawl which leaves one man dead and Don Gately damn near it, there is a constant refrain from every onlooker and participant: call Pat.
So I had to sit think very seriously for this one: who is the best mom? The ultimate mom? The purveyor of sugar cookies, and, equally, the enforcer? And then it hit me: Regina motherfucking Hall. She did Support the Girls and Girls Trip and The Hate U Give in basically the same year. The. Range. Period.