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10 Actors Who Have Played Literary Types

Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen‘s biggest hit in 25 years, features “cameos” by American literary expats F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein, among other authors.

It’s not the only recent film depicting the oft-wild lives of famous writers. John Cusack stars as goth author Edgar Allan Poe in 2012’s tentatively titled murder mystery The Raven – and if the candid on-set photos of the costumed Cusack splashed across the internet are any indication, anticipation for the flick is high.

Putting famous writers on the silver screen is hardly a new Hollywood trend. Check out these ten actors who’ve played literary types:

1. Nicole Kidman famously donned a prosthetic nose as the finishing touch on her Oscar-winning portrayal of British author and feminist icon Virginia Woolf in 2002’s The Hours. Spoiler: it doesn’t end well.

2. Gwyneth Paltrow starred as doomed American poet Sylvia Plath in 2003’s Sylvia, which focuses on both Plath’s stormy relationship with husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes (a pre-Bond Daniel Craig) and her increasing mental anguish. Spoiler: not a very happy ending here either.

3. It took not one but two Academy Award winners to portray massively prolific British author Iris Murdoch in 2001’s Iris, based on a memoir by Murdoch’s husband, John Bayley. Kate Winslet starred as the younger Murdoch, while Dame Judi Dench handled the author’s later years, including a heartbreaking descent into Alzheimer’s. Spoiler: You get the picture.

4. Stephen Fry portrayed irrepressible Irish wit and dandy of letters Oscar Wilde in 1997’s Wilde, which examines the personal and legal agony caused by Wilde’s gay affair with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde served time in prison for “unnatural acts.”

5. Steven Soderbergh made the bizarre decision to follow up on his winning 1989 debut Sex, Lies and Videotape by directing a mess of a 1991 thriller featuring Jeremy Irons as Czech writer Franz Kafka. Set in the dreary Prague of 1919, Kafka finds a fictional version of the “Metamorphosis” author embroiled in a conspiracy, outrunning villainous strangers, and other decidedly, uh, Kafka-esque goings-on.

6. Fred Ward and Maria de Medeiros tried their darnedest to capture the erotically charged affair between balding American writer Henry Miller and sultry French author Anais Nin in 1990’s Henry & June. Set in Paris during the 1930s, and also starring Uma Thurman as Miller’s wife June, the film is a celebration of sex, bohemian values, and Ward’s ridiculously visible shaved hairline.

7. Jennifer Jason Leigh slurred her way through the role of frequently drunk American writer Dorothy Parker in 1994’s Mrs. Parker and The Vicious Circle. The flick depicts the juice-fueled antics of the Algonquin Table writers in 1920s New York. Also features Campbell Scott as Parker’s fellow New Yorker scribe Robert Benchley; Lili Taylor as Giant author Edna Ferber; and David Thornton as celebrated American humorist George S. Kaufman.

8. Geoffrey Rush played the kinky Marquis de Sade in 2000’s insane asylum drama Quills, co-starring Kate Winslet. A French aristocrat, the Marquis made a career of exploring the darker aspects of human sexuality, was routinely incarcerated for his work, and left behind a literary legacy that inspired generations of fetish magazine editors everywhere.

9. Anthony Hopkins portrayed British writer and Tolkien pal C.S. Lewis in 1993’s biography Shadowlands, focusing on the creator of Narnia’s transformative love affair with American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger).

10. Australian actress Judy Davis played cross-dressing French author George Sand in 1991’s Impromptu, chronicling the tortured love affair between lusty, domineering Sand and hopelessly wimpy composer Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant).

What other Hollywood stars played writers onscreen?

My new favorite drag queen

is the delightful Varla Jean Merman from last night’s very special episode of Project Runway.

I don’t watch many – or any- reality television shows, but I do tune in when my gal pal views this Bravo program because I enjoy the rampant creativity. I don’t care much for the designers, but it’s a lot of fun watching them hear what the new challenge will be and then, in the words of unflappable host Tim Gunn, “Make it work.”

I’ve now seen several episodes. Perhaps I got a little more drawn in after nearly knocking over last season’s winner, tiny Christian Siriano, in Hell’s Kitchen one night in July. Who was this fabulous elf? I wanted to know about his kind.

So I began watching the show. Last night, by a mile, was my favorite challenge: designing for drag queens. The idea was to be outrageous, the zanier, the better. Have you seen a drag show? I’ve seen plenty of amateur queens, but attending the exclusive Miss Adams Morgan pagaent last year in DC changed my life. These bitches meant business. It wasn’t about mimicking ladies, it was about being the most outrageous, colorful, hilarious being in the room. The costumes were, for lack of a better word, spectacular. Have you ever seen a human dressed as a peacock? How about a real-life version of Judy Jetson?

Last night’s winner was straight boy Joe, who seemed, frankly, worried when learning about the challenge. In the end, however, Joe let his freak flag fly, creating a hot pink nautical get-up – “Ann-Margret on Love Boat“, he called it – in which his model, ever-grateful Varla Jean (real name: Jeffrey Roberson) strutted down the runway like an ecstatic child after opening a Malibu Barbie trailer on Christmas.

While I can’t link to the video here, I can steer you into the direction of our friends over at Jezebel who can show you this fab clip of Joe and Varla Jean discussing the outfit with the judges, cohost Heidi Klum, Elle’s Nina Garcia and special guest RuPaul.

Kudos to Joe and Varla Jean, a match made in drag heaven. If you need more of Varla Jean, she’s all over Youtube in videos from her hilarious shows where she uses some very strong language. Varla Jean, act like a lady!

Do you have a favorite drag queen? Are you a Project Runway fan? Who’s your favorite designer?

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