Saturday, October 8, 2022

Recasting 1991 (supporting): "The Prince of Tides"

For a while, I had been seriously considering choosing this film for my original "lead" recasting project a couple of years ago. I've been a fan of The Prince of Tides since I was in college, when I can remember checking it out from the catalogue of VHS tapes held behind my dorm's front desk. I thought better of the lead recasting, however, when I realized that the role of Dr. Lowenstein (portrayed by Barbra Streisand, who also directed the picture) wasn't all that great of a character to me. Streisand did a wonderful job in the role, of course. But it ultimately became more appealing to me to picture Meryl being directed by Streisand, and taking on a part with a bit more meat to it, that of the social-climbing, manipulative Southern mother, Lila Wingo.  

Based on Pat Conroy's best-selling novel, the story follows Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte), who leaves his home in South Carolina to visit his twin sister Savannah in New York after she's attempted suicide (again). Streisand portrays Savannah's psychiatrist, Susan, and she and Tom develop a romantic relationship. In his discussions with Dr. Lowenstein, Tom slowly reveals the details of he and his siblings' tragic upbringing, including the resultant tumultuous relationship with their mother. I read an interview with Kate Nelligan (who portrays Lila) around the time of the film's release, and she described the hesitation she and Streisand had about ageing the character from her late twenties to her sixties. They had originally tested older actresses for the older "version" of Lila, but ultimately decided to use makeup to age Nelligan. I think they made the right choice, as Nelligan (even with early 90s makeup) was believable in both time periods. She is less than a year younger than Meryl as well, so it would've been equally as doable for Meryl in the role. See comparison between the two videos below. 

This second video shows Tom discussing "Callanwolde," the prison from which three convicts escaped and sexually traumatized the Wingo family. Imagine having to endure getting raped, seeing your mother and your sister raped, watching your brother kill the perpetrators, and then being told that you can NEVER speak of it. They didn't even tell their father, who was absent at the time of the incident. Whatever kind of pathology that burdened Lila to the point that she felt the best thing to do for her family was to insist that "this never happened," it's amazing that she's able to rationalize her choices by saying she simply doesn't dwell on the past. There's a sad sort of selfishness in that. She put her own desire for upward social mobility in the way of the health and wellness of her children. It didn't even seem like she behaved like she was all that traumatized herself by what happened. But maybe she was? Maybe it's too easy to judge the choice she made to stifle her children's communication about what had happened to them, when she had no other way to deal with her own pain from the experience. It's hard to say. But that would've been an interesting angle to explore for an actor. 

The Prince of Tides was a critical and commercial success. It garnered seven Academy Award nominations, although many were left raising an eyebrow that despite its Best Picture nom, Streisand was left off the directing list. Nelligan deservedly scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actress and was runner-up with the New York Film Critics Circle. I enjoy the movie to this day, and have more recently enjoyed teasing out the nuances in Nelligan's careful performance. 


  1. This is another great role in a memorable 90s movie. I agree it would be interesting to see the results of Meryl and Barbra collaborate. For my choice I would lean towards the Kathy Bates role in Fried Green Tomatoes, if anyone is a fan?

    1. Is anyone a fan?! I chose that film for my 1991 lead recasting! I love it.