One of the most important parts of the film-making process is finding the right fit for each role. It’s important to find the right actor for your leading roles, all the way down to your secondary characters and minor roles. While the burden of the quality of the film rests on the shoulders of the directors, writers, and numerous behind-the-scenes roles, the face of the movie will always be the actors and the depth of their performances.
Thanks to the introduction of the internet, something that has gained a lot of traction is “fan-casting.” Generally, fans will try to cast characters in their head, but they miss a lot of the nuance. For instance, if a role calls for an evil, bald white guy, fans are quick to say “Bryan Cranston would be perfect for this role!” But even if a talented actor matches the look, they aren’t necessarily always the right choice. In fact, the person that fans would generally never consider for a role is the best fit. There’s nothing wrong with fan-casting, I do it myself and its fun to imagine your dream movie, but its unfair to assume that fan choices are the only right ones.
There are quite a few examples of characters that were the subject of fan-outrage that ended up making fans eat their own words with their performances, and one that especially comes to mind is Heath Ledger in the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight. When Ledger was announced as The Joker in 2006, he put through the wringer on the internet. Fans lambasted the casting decision as one of the greatest mistakes ever made, mainly because they were only familiar with his performances in A Knights Tale and Ten Things I Hate About You. Heath was a romantic-comedy pretty boy in the eyes of fans, but they had missed something that the Casting Directors had seen. After the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s passing, many regard his role as The Joker as one of the most iconic villain portrayals in movie history, and certainly the standout role of his career.
Casting teams also aren’t always right however, and while Warner Brothers is responsible for hits like the The Dark Knight, they also gave us Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which included one of the most miscast roles I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Jessie Eisenberg in the role of Lex Luthor wasn’t an uninspired choice, and anyone who has seen The Social Network has seen that Eisenberg can convey a villainous, selfish businessman with ulterior motives. Following the casting decision, many people were excited to see him reprise what he had already done before as a new and modern take on Lex Luthor, channeling what he had done as Mark Zuckerberg. What we got in the finished product was something completely different than expected, and not in a good way. When people imagine Lex Luthor, they imagine a character with gravitas, menace, and power. Eisenberg took the role and made the character erratic, quirky, and awkward. He wasn’t calculated, he was childish. Of course the fault on the portrayal doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of Eisenberg, it also falls on the script and directors. But in this situation, a character who has proven themselves in a role’s “type” was the wrong choice.
The argument being presented is that casting is much more complicated than picking up an already established actor with a “type.” While those are the safe bets, some of the best casting decisions have been those out-of-the-box decisions that included a bit of risk. Before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in Iron Man, his career had been considered dead due to a slew of personal issues. Hugh Jackman was a 6’2 actor cast as a savage animalistic character that stands at about 5’3.
The fact of the matter is, Each actor will bring something new to each role, and their portrayals, good or bad, end up defining the finished product. And sometimes, the most obvious choice isn’t always the right one. There are certainly many roles written with certain actors in mind, but the roles I enjoy the most are ones that actors have made their own. I’m a huge fan of the Star Wars approach, where relative unknowns are cast in high-profile films. But there are a variety of approaches, and each have plenty of successful instances we can point to.
So what do you think? Are you more on the side of casting an actor with a pedigree that matches the role, and do you generally agree with fan casting? Or are you more of a fan of out-of-the-box casting that you wouldn’t expect? Sound off in the comments below, and let us know some of your favorite casting decisions!