Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Recasting 1981: "Reds"

Hot off an uncharacteristically steamy role in 1980's American Gigolo, I'm inserting Meryl into Warren Beatty's drama, Reds. The film was based on the lives of American journalists John Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (originally played by Diane Keaton), and their involvement in the Russian Revolution during World War I. 

This role seems right up Meryl's usual alley: period piece, biopic, vast scope, political message. In the early stages of her (real) career, she likely didn't have the chops for such a big project--Keaton was a more established leading lady at that point. But again, we're creating our own version of Meryl's filmography with this recasting, so we'll assume that given her résumé from the few years prior to this potential project, she was prime for a sweeping epic alongside Hollywood royalty. 

In the film, Bryant is attracted to Reed's idealism, and ends up leaving her husband to join him in New York. The two have a tumultuous relationship, and Bryan ends up having an affair with playwright Eugene O'Neill, played by Jack Nicholson. Bryant grows increasingly radical, and ends up heading to Europe to be a correspondent during the war. She ends up reuniting with Reed, and they get caught up in the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution. 

 Keaton plays Bryant with her usual exasperated quirkiness. I was drawn out of the plot a little at times, as Keaton comes off so modern to me, that it occasionally didn't seem like this was a setting in the early 20th century. Not that it's bad to forget the characters are from a long time ago, but it takes away form the scope of it all when they ever seem out of their era. Ditto that for Beatty at times. Maybe that's actually the way progressive journalists form that era sounded like?


It would've been fun to see Meryl negotiate the complexities of a woman with very independent thinking at that time. Add to that, I imagine the film was a bit radical in itself, as it depicted communism in a sympathetic light...not exactly something typical for American films in the 1980s. 

The film was wildly popular with critics and earned twelve Academy Award nominations, including Keaton for Best Actress. It was also a modest success at the box office. Overall, participation in a film that was as well-received and high profile as this one would have only bolstered Meryl's already burgeoning reputation as one of the most sought-after leading ladies of her time. 


  1. Also it would have been an early Sondheim collab as he wrote the song "Goodbye for Now" for it after Beatty didn't like his scoring... and had him replaced.

  2. I have never seen this film although I own it on DVD... so I will make a point of watching it now!

    I was certain you'd cast Meryl in 'Mommie Dearest' in 1981!

    You know who should have played Joan Crawford though??? I noticed the real Crawford tap her finger on her chin in a TV interview from the 1960s, and it reminded me of a cinematic moment in some period movie that I couldn't recall... it was years before I realised which actor and film it was: Vanessa Redgrave in 'Howards End'.

    These women have the same stature, facial structure and Redgrave coulda done it no sweat!

    Anyway, apologies for hijacking your recasting thread with several other recasts... I'm enjoying your articles a lot.

    1. Hijack away! I love the dialogue and other perspectives. It's part of the reason I post at all!

  3. Great that you're enjoying it too. I don't know about you but I always chuckle when I read that Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand and Diane Keaton were all tipped for early Meryl Streep roles... it shows what a barrier she had to break through to get the parts.

    1. So few great parts for so many great actors. I find it to be a testament to how truly special Streep is in terms of the craft. Even now (but then in particular as she could've easily fallen into the typecasting woodchipper), she chooses roles that keep us guessing. If there's any trend she's taken, it's that she's always said yes to roles that she's not done before.