Big, sprawling ensemble books are the sort of projects whose adaptations tend to enlist the maximum star power available. In 1970, Mike Nichols turned Joseph Heller’s 1953 classic of WWII military bureaucracy and the needless horrors of war, Catch-22, into a big ol’ movie starring the likes of Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Jon Voight, Anthony Perkins, and Orson Welles, not to mention about a million other people. But the book is much too dense for a single film, which is why George Clooney is adapting it as a miniseries for Hulu. Clooney is likewise putting together a pretty great cast for the project, which, as announced on Tuesday, includes Hugh Laurie.
For those who’ve never read Catch-22, it’s the story of a terrified Air Force bombardier stationed in Italy who tries time and time again to avoid being sent out on any missions, for fear of death. The only way to get spared of this fate in one piece: being decreed insane, and thus unfit for battle. Unfortunately, there’s a military bylaw that states anyone who fears for his own safety is not insane and therefore has to fly missions, while anyone who does want to fly missions isinsane… but still has to fly missions, because you won’t be dismissed without applying for exemption (which would then, in turn, prove you don’t want to fly missions, thus making you sane). The book is populated with a million side characters, each with their own tragicomic story about why and how they can’t just go home from the war.
Laurie has been cast as Major de Coverly for the limited series. Fans of the book will know that character as Major ____ de Coverly, a terrifying character who doesn’t seem to have any official duties other than pitching horseshoes and kidnapping Italian laborers to help around the base. Despite not having a first name as far as anyone can assess, he’s also a person of interest to intelligence agencies on both sides of the war, owing to his mysterious appearance at the fall of several major cities.
De Coverly was one of several characters from Heller’s novel left out of the 1970 film, so it’ll be great to see him in the series, especially played by such a great actor as Hugh Laurie. He joins Girls‘ Christopher Abbott as the lead character of Capt. John Yossarian and producer-director Clooney in the role of Col. Cathcart, the book’s de facto main antagonist. If Laurie is playing de Coverly, one can only guess who Clooney will get to play more pivotal characters like Milo Minderbinder, Nately, or Chaplain Tappman.
Catch-22 is expected sometime this year as a six-episode limited series on Hulu.