Ayn Rand and Her work

Movie Magic: Ayn Rand Casts Atlas Shrugged
by Erika Holzer

They were the most heady "casting parties" I ever attended. I especially liked being the only attendee (Hank Holzer also being present but not contributing much to the fun).

Those of you who've read my 2001 essay for The Atlas Society, "Why Ayn Rand Would Have Loved This Site," know that I'm a lawyer turned novelist and that, during the mid-60s, my husband and I represented Ms. Rand.

Those of you who have checked out my website (www.erikaholzer.com) learned, from the site's dedication, that my husband and I held professional consultations with Ms. Rand - not during normal business hours, nor at our midtown Manhattan law office - but evenings at her home. You also learned that, once our legal business was concluded, we would talk into the wee hours, conversation ranging from the broadly philosophical (deficiencies in the criminal justice system) to the mundane (the virtues of stamp collecting). But one topic I returned to again and again with the dogged persistence of a Golden Retriever (excuse the pun) was movies in general* and casting Atlas Shrugged in particular.

Ayn enjoyed our "game" as much as I did.

In all honesty I can't recall every actor or actress we mulled over - there were too many and the process was ongoing for a long period of time. But certain names stuck in my memory - especially those movie stars who were the subject of fierce/friendly debate.

We were of one mind on who should play the central character - central, that is, to Ayn: Robert Redford as John Galt. Lacking the courage to mention that, for me, the central character (or, at the very least and to this day, my favorite character) was Francisco D'Anconia, I put forth the name of John Justin for Francisco and got an immediate and enthusiastic thumbs up. John Justin, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of viewing David Lean's greatest cinematic achievement, his post-World War II "Breaking the Sound Barrier," starring Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd, Nigel Patrick - and a young, stunningly handsome, and utterly flamboyant John Justin - would, I venture to say, be hard put to disagree with our assessment once you'd seen test pilot Justin's climactic scene in that movie. John Justin was Francisco D'Anconia.

Candidates for Hank Rearden were more numerous. To my dismay, Ayn seemed stuck on Robert Stack. While I agreed that Stack was an ideal physical type for Rearden, his acting tended to be "wooden" - in much the same way, I pointed out, that Gary Cooper had, on the surface, been a perfect Howard Roark in The Fountainhead but had lacked Roark's power of certainty and keen intellect. (Ayn had to admit that, even after much coaching and explaining on her part, Cooper - whom she liked - was unable to bring off the movie's climactic speech, confessing to her that he didn't understand it.) Much later, Ayn and I settled quite happily on Clint Eastwood.

Dagny Taggart was a hard case. Ayn regaled me with anecdotes about Barbara Stanwyck, whom she'd known and who had coveted the role of Dominique in The Fountainhead. While she respected Stanwyck as an actress, she and I agreed that, although Stanwyck would have done justice to the tough-minded aspect of Dagny's character, she (like Joan Crawford) wouldn't have been able to temper tough-mindedness with femininity. "Can you picture Barbara Stanwyck - for one minute - projecting vulnerability?" Ayn asked rhetorically. I couldn't picture it. We managed to come up with a number of candidates, but the only one I remember - a leading contender - was Faye Dunaway.

That took care of major characters in the "good guys" corner.

Even after all these years, Lillian Rearden in my book retains her title of most despicable villainess in fiction, so I take great pride in revealing that it was I who identified the perfect Lillian. Ayn, as I recall, had to be reintroduced to the actress I had in mind for the role but, that done, she wholeheartedly agreed: Claire Bloom. "The eyes are the key," I remember telling Ayn excitedly. "No actress is better at conveying evasion and a sort of lifelessness . . . a deadness of the soul that detracts from her undeniable beauty." To this day, I cannot reread any portion of Atlas where Lillian is on stage without seeing Claire Bloom.

The male villains were a lot of fun. Ayn and I clashed over James Taggart, her vote going to Vincent Price, mine to Joseph Cotton; in retrospect, I think she was right (although I remained skeptical about whether Price could keep from surrendering to melodrama). I came up with the actors to play Dr. Robert Stadler, Wesley Mouch, and Cuffy Meigs. I can't recall any reaction on her part to Eddie Albert as Mouch, but she loved Hume Cronyn as the brainy, boyish, likeable - and ultimately evil - Dr. Stadler. As for Cuffy - he of the leather leggings and short attention span - who could better pull off the quintessential looter than Rod Steiger? Remembering Steiger from Stirling Silliphant's memorable "In the Heat of the Night," Ayn readily added her vote to mine.

I miss those casting parties. What I wouldn't give right now to sit with Ayn on that overstuffed couch of hers at three in the morning while the two of us rose to the challenge of sifting through today's movie stars and nominating some likely candidates!

A few years ago, when it looked as if Atlas Shrugged might finally make it to the Big Screen, I shared with the would-be producer, whom I'd known for many years, the Randian/Holzerian selections. But I didn't stop there - I couldn't. Indulging in a little extrapolation (forgive me, Ayn), I came up with the following casting suggestions - the ones I deemed most in keeping with those mid-60s choices she and I had made - even going so far as to note alternatives, listed according to preference. In a few instances, I've taken the liberty of updating the list.


Brad Pitt
Patrick Swayze
Jeremy Northam


Gabriel Byrne - hands down (I rest my case on his superb swashbuckling and magisterial persona in "The Man in the Iron Mask.")
Pierce Brosnan (if only he could shed his tongue-in-cheek James Bond image)
George Clooney (ditto re his tongue-in-check goofiness)


Russell Crowe
Ed Harris
Chris Cooper


Kristen Scott Thomas
Julianne Moore
Sigourney Weaver


Uma Thurman
Cate Blanchett
Joan Allen


Kevin Spacey
Geoffrey Rush
Sam Waterston


Ralph Fiennes
Stephen Rea
Tim Roth


Gene Hackman
Dustin Hoffman
William Hurt


Armand Assante
Andy Garcia
Mickey Rourke

I vaguely remember Ayn and I debating about three other pivotal characters in the good-guys category, but since the choices we made continue to elude me, I'll list some actors I think she'd have approved:


John Cusack
Matthew Broderick
Edward Norton


Bill Pullman
Kurt Russell
Brendan Fraser


Gary Sinese
Ethan Hawke
Keanu Reeves

After reviewing all of the above, I decided to take a last hard look at the entries and, taking into consideration who would play off best against whom, I would settle on one actor or actress for each role. Here they are, ready or not:

Galt: Brad Pitt
Francisco: Gabriel Byrne
Rearden: Russell Crowe
Dagny: Kristen Scott Thomas
Lillian: Uma Thurman
Taggart: Kevin Spacey
Stadler: Ralph Fiennes
Mouch: Dustin Hoffman
Cuffy: Armand Assante
Eddie: John Cusack
Ellis: Brendan Fraser
Quentin: Gary Sinese

When it comes to Atlas Shrugged, people are prone to vehement disagreement about who should (or who most definitely should not) help bring this incredibly complex novel to visual life. It's contagious, playing the casting game. Irresistible.

Isn't it?


* Of the half dozen or so essays I've written pertaining to some of my personal experiences with Ms. Rand (available on my website), I was a bit startled to re-discover that four out of seven of these essays relate to the movies; to wit: Ayn and I Go to the Movies: Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughed"; Ayn and I - Co-authors? The Facts Behind a "Literary Coup"; Odd Blend of Naturalism and Melodrama: Dissecting the Widely Acclaimed Film "In the Bedroom"; Academy Award Reflections: An Imagined Conversation with Ayn Rand.

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