TORONTO — Author Zoe Whittall says she’s fielded several offers to adapt her acclaimed novel “The Best Kind of People,” which deals with rape culture and sexual assault.
But when Oscar-nominated actress, writer and director Sarah Polley inquired about a month ago, she immediately knew it was the right fit.
“Her vision for the story was really in line,” the Toronto-based Whittall said Thursday in a phone interview, confirming reports that Polley plans to adapt the story for the big screen.
“I really felt strongly that if someone was going to write the script that it be a woman and someone with a feminist vision, and I’m just such a fan of Sarah’s. She makes beautiful feature films and I just am really excited to see what she comes up with.”
“The Best Kind of People” sees George Woodbury, a beloved prep-school teacher and father, arrested for sexual misconduct and attempted rape of several young female students. The story follows his wife Joan, who’s a nurse, and their children as they deal with the controversy.
Toronto-based House of Anansi Press published the story, which is set in a Connecticut neighbourhood and was a finalist for last year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.
“The book is really about what happens to the people around somebody who is accused of a crime and their emotional journey,” said Whittall.
“It’s not a crime novel. It doesn’t go inside the head of a person accused. It’s not a survivor story either.
“It’s about the stigma and emotional chaos that happens with the loved ones of the father and husband who’s accused.”
Whittall said it took her about seven years to write the novel. It was a departure for her, both stylistically and thematically, and there were times when she wasn’t sure she’d be able to pull it off.
“It’s done better than I could have ever imagined,” she said. ”I almost gave up on it a number of times.”
When Polley expressed interest to write and direct an adaptation of the story, “it was one of those ecstatic kind of ‘I can’t believe it’s happening moments,’” said Whittall.
Polley has acted in countless titles, was nominated for an Oscar for writing “Away From Her” and also wrote and produced the upcoming “Alias Grace” miniseries.
“Because Sarah has made such incredible work around very meaningful, intense, personal experiences … I just feel like she is so capable of handling really intense material,” said Whittall.
Whittall is also a screenwriter for TV and has an idea of who she’d like to see cast in “The Best Kind of People” film.
“I would love it if Frances McDormand could play Joan,” she said. ”I pictured her in that role.
“But there are so many amazing actresses in that age range that could play Joan really well.”