'Pink House' author tickled at casting of movie's lead role

At left, Susette Kelo in a May 31, 2006, Day file photo being interviewed in front of her home in New London.  At right, actress Catherine Keener, in a January 2014 AP file photo, has signed to play Kelo in the movie version of 'Little Pink House.' (Suzanne Ouellette/The Day file photo and Victoria Will/Invision/AP Photo)
At left, Susette Kelo in a May 31, 2006, Day file photo being interviewed in front of her home in New London. At right, actress Catherine Keener, in a January 2014 AP file photo, has signed to play Kelo in the movie version of "Little Pink House." (Suzanne Ouellette/The Day file photo and Victoria Will/Invision/AP Photo)

Author Jeff Benedict applauded word this week that a two-time Academy Award nominee will play defiant homeowner Susette Kelo in the movie version of “Little Pink House,” his 2009 book about New London’s use of eminent domain in a failed attempt to redevelop Fort Trumbull.

Catherine Keener, nominated for Best Supporting Actress awards for “Being John Malkovich” (1999) and “Capote” (2005), has signed to play Kelo, online news sites and Facebook posts reported.

Reached by phone Thursday in Virginia, where he is a professor at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Benedict said he was “thrilled” by Keener’s casting.

“If you had told me a year ago that the actress playing Susette Kelo was a two-time Academy Award nominee, I would have been over the moon with that,” Benedict said. “She (Keener) is an actress who’s been in some great movies — ‘Being John Malkovich,’ ‘Capote.’ She can shine in a movie where she’s not a lead, too, like ‘Captain Phillips.’ I think she’s going to do a great job.”

Attempts to reach Kelo were unsuccessful.

Benedict, executive producer of the movie, said he had no involvement in its casting but was kept apprised of the process. He said he has known about Keener's commitment for weeks.

Benedict plans to travel next week to Vancouver, where “Little Pink House” is in production. The movie's release date has not been set.

He declined to comment on the other actors and parts that have been cast. Casting the Kelo role, though, was critical, he said.

“I’m not going to pretend that it was not a source of anxiety,” Benedict said. “The choice to play Susette was a big one. Films can pivot on things like that. I had the most angst about that.”

Benedict had first optioned his book to the Lifetime network for a project in which actress Brooke Shields was to be co-producer and portray Kelo.

That project never materialized and the option expired several years ago.

“Brooke Shields probably has a bigger name (than Keener) if you polled people walking down the street,” Benedict said. “On the other hand, if you’re talking about who’s been twice nominated for Academy Awards, once for playing Harper Lee opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman (in ‘Capote’), and in ‘Captain Philips,’ (with Tom Hanks) …

“She’s perfectly suited for this role. It’s not a glamour role; it’s a role a serious actress would gravitate toward.”

Benedict did not write the movie's script, which he said closely tracks the narrative of the book. 

Kelo, he said, is a seminal figure.

“Start with the fact that this was a divorced nurse who’s riding with EMTs, had never owned property in her life, and finds herself up against a mayor, a big corporation and a civic personality. She undercuts the idea that you can’t beat city hall. I know at the end, in the Supreme Court case, city hall does win — but really it never did.”

Ten years ago, in a landmark decision few have lauded, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the city’s use of eminent domain.

Benedict’s most recent book, “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” is being made into a television series.

In 2001, his book “Without Reservation,” questioned the legitimacy of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, causing a stir in his native southeastern Connecticut.

The film rights to “Without Reservation,” which Benedict has optioned three times, recently became available again.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

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