The casting game has already begun on John Berendt's critically acclaimed new novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. No wonder, considering that Berendt's intimate tour through Savannah's eccentric society swirls around the murder of a white-trash male hustler at the hands of a blue- blooded antiques dealer and features splashy appearances by a voodoo priestess and an outspoken transvestite named the Lady Chablis.
What lured Berendt, a native New Yorker who edited New York magazine from 1977 to 1979, to Georgia's shady haven in the first place? After a few weekend jaunts, he was so seduced by Savannah's leisurely Southern charm that he moved there. And once word got out that he had a book in progress, the author's new townmates could barely contain themselves and invited him over for strong cocktails and tasty tidbits. ''People in Savannah don't say, 'Before leaving the room, Mrs. Jones put on her coat,''' explains Berendt. ''Instead, they say, 'Before leaving the room, Mrs. Jones put on the coat that her third husband gave her before he shot himself in the head.' ''
So just who should star in Midnight, the movie version? Producer Arnold Stiefel (About Last Night ) has already snapped up the film rights. ''Tommy Lee Jones has been suggested to play Jim Williams [the antiques dealer], and Brad Pitt for the role of Danny Hansford [the hustle],'' says Berendt. And how about the film's juiciest role, that of the drag queen, the Lady Chablis? ''Oh, she's already cast herself,'' the author says. ''She says she definitely doesn't want Eddie Murphy, but that Halle Berry or Vanessa Williams would both be fine.''