Fantasy Casting: Chelsea Cain’s Heartbreaker Series

Cover of Chelsea Cain’s smash-hit series—which began with 2007’s Heartsick, and continued with Sweetheart (2008), Evil at Heart (2009), and this year’s The Night Season—is a bone-chillingly good read. The brutal, pulls-no-punches series focuses on a gorgeous and sadistic serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, and her pursuer/victim Detective Archie Sheridan. The two play out a sick cat-and-mouse chase, as the bodies stack up and Archie’s obsession with the woman who once captured and carved up his body like a side of beef only grows. Keeping Archie grounded and helping with the capture is gutsy girl-journalist Susan Ward. Cain’s writing is clever, compelling, and highly cinematic, making this a perfect pick for a film adaption. Here’s some of my fantasy picks for who should play this thrilling trio:

1) Gretchen Lowell

Description from Heartsick:

“Her eyes were large and pale blue and her features were perfectly symmetrical, wide cheekbones , a long, sculpted nose, and a heart-shaped face that ended in a dainty chin. Her flesh was bloodless. Her hair, which had been very blond at the time of her arrest, was now a darker shade of blond and was combed back into a high ponytail, showing off, her long, aristocratic neck. She was not pretty. That was not the word for it. Pretty implied something girlish. Gretchen Lowell was beautiful in a very grown-up way, in a sophisticated, confident way. It was more than beauty, it was the power of beauty. She radiated it.”

The charismatic and deadly “Beauty Killer” at the heart of Cain’s novels is a tough one, believe it or not. There are many beautiful, blonde, 30-something actresses in Hollywood, but how many of them can pull off murderous and charming at the same time? Cameron Diaz: Too ditsy. Reese Witherspoon: Too sweet. Cate Blanchett: Too royal. Nicole Kidman: Too botoxed.

The author herself is partial to a fellow Portlander, local musician Storm Large, (Large partnered with the author and Macmillan to appear in promotional spots as Gretchen for the third book in the series, Evil at Heart.) But for a potential movie, you’d need someone with serious acting chops and a bit of star power.

If looks and age weren’t an issue, the quite-stunning Lena Olin would be my ideal choice. Anyone who saw her as the enigmatic and ruthless Irina Derevko in Alias, might agree, but at 56 and with brunette hair and darker coloring, she’s not quite right physically for the role. So my pick? The gorgeous and talented Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame. Physically, the former model could certainly drive a man crazy, and anyone who saw her snap a baby’s neck with a chilling smile on BSG (or play a killer in the indie movie Open House) knows she could handle the cunning and cold-blooded Gretchen.

Tricia Helfer
Tricia Helfer: in Open House (Right)

2) Detective Archie Sheridan

For Archie, you need an actor who can play broken and haunted, but with a tinge of insanity. Detective Archie is only ever a short skip from looney-tunes land, thanks to his torture at the hands of Gretchen and their strange Stockholm Syndrome-type relationship. So who’s got the goods to play this poor twisted soul? The insanely talented Edward Norton certainly knows from crazy and haunted characters. But physically, Archie’s described as quite handsome, with a full head of dark hair that’s just starting to gray at the temples.  Christian Bale has the looks and the talent to play the tortured and out-of-control detective.

Christian Bale
Christian Bale: in Batman (Right)

3) Susan Ward

This multi-colored pigtails/army boots-sporting young journalist has a distinctive and non-traditional sense of style.  Lindy Booth, best known for a bevy of TV roles including the recurring role of “Pizza Girl” on the short-lived TV show October Road, has the bubbling enthusiasm and fierce determination that marks Susan’s character. And she’s already got the colored hair thing down to an art! But if she’s not available, the feisty Brea Grant (who you might remember as the speedy, super-powered Daphne on Heroes) has the sharp tongue and scrappiness the role requires. For a tougher and edgier take on the character, Mae Whitman, who was an excellent evil ex in Scott Pilgrim and is currently nailing the outcast teenager role on TV’s Parenthood, could easily play slightly older to take on Susan.

Lindy Booth and Mae Whitman
Lindy Booth (Left) and Mae Whitman

What do you think? Who would you pick to bring the Cain Novels to shocking and gory life?

Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.


  1. Kiki

    I’m firmly up to my elbows in the Heartbreaker series right now and was just pondering this topic on my long bus ride to work this morning. I can’t hit on a perfect Archie, although Bale might be nice. Maybe Mark Ruffalo? Does he have the necessary fragility?

    But I do have to go on record as saying Anne Dudek as Gretchen Lowell. Anyone who saw her performance on “House MD” knows that she has the prerequisite ability to say a trillion words without saying a word. She’s got guile down to an art form.

  2. Sloane

    Michael Biehn for Archie.
    I think your choice of Lindy Booth ad Susan Ward is excellent.
    No idea for Gretchen!

  3. lyn

    My ideas are: January Jones for Gretchen. (she has expressed interest in the role) Robert Downey, Jr. for Archie, (the brown touseled hair…and he can play dark) and Ellen Page for Susan. Still working on Henry! 😉

  4. CJP

    Gretchen=Olivia Wilde
    Archie=Patrick Wilson
    Susan=Ellen Paige
    Henry=John Travolta (with the current buzz cut badass look he sports)
    Claire=Mila Kunis
    At least that’s the way it is cast in my head!

  5. lena

    Archie – Vincent Cassel / Christian Bale / (Lee Pace?)
    Gretchen – [b][u]EVA GREEN[/u][/b] !!
    Susan – [u]Winona Ryder![/u]
    Henry – Jean Reno I / Woody Harrelson
    Claire – Teri Hatcher

    my perfect team

  6. Alex22

    Archie – Jon Hamm
    Gretchen – Olivia Wilde / Tricia Helfer / Famke Janssen
    Susan – i seriously don’t know who to put here … Lena Headey maybe
    Henry – Rex Linn
    Claire – Lena Headey / Terri Hatcher

  7. JDV

    Archie- Brendan Fehr! (he is the only face i see when i imagine archie)

    Gretchen- Amanda Schull or Yvonne Strahovski/ Eva Green also a good choice but gretchen really [u]must[/u] be blond

    Susan-Ksenia Solo( #1 choice) Alexandra Daddario or Jodelle Ferland(she may be too young but susan should be someone young)

  8. andreas

    Gretchen- Connie Nielsen
    Archie- Karl Urban or Goran Visnjic
    Susan- Valorie Curry or Lindy Booth
    Henry- Rob Lowe (Untouchable)

  9. LeslieM25

    I always picture Rachael Roberts as Gretchen. She’s gorgeous and I can see her playing a villain. I can’t figure out Archie though. I kind of always picture Olivia Wilde as Susan. I like the suggestion of Lindy Booth a lot though. I feel like she almost looks a little too young for Susan though…I don’t know. There has to be chemistry between her and Archie and I feel like it would look awkward with Lindy Booth.

  10. Rafaella

    I think Mark Ruffalo would be gould as Archie Sheridan (not too handsome, broken nose, curly hair, right age). For Gretchen I have 3 options: Charlize Theron, Rachel Skarsten and Yvonne Strahovski although I think nothing can beat Charlize’s bitch face!!! For Henry I could see Michael Chiklis and for Susan Eliza Dushku! What do u think?

  11. littlezero

    Archie = Jim Caveziel
    Gretchen = Georgina Haig!!!!
    Susan Ward = Nora Zehetner
    Debbie Sheridan = Carla Gugino

  12. Shirlyn

    Archie – Josh Duhamel / Hugh Jackman (wish Paul Walker was around)
    Gretchen – Charlize Theoron ( no one else)
    Susan – Erica Durance / Ellen Page

  13. Revy Novak

    Gretchen- Kathryn Winnick (Her and only her).
    Archie- Jensen Ackles (See Supernatural, he is the perfect fit).
    Susan- Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead). Or Taylor Momsen .
    Debbie- Rachel McAdams .

  14. Adam H

    Gretchen: Jennifer Lawrence
    Archie: Charlie Weber
    Susan: Olivia Wilde
    Debbie: Meghan Markle
    Henry: Russel Crowe

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