The internet has given humanity many advantages and opportunities in the last decade or two, and one of those is the chance to share your opinion on film casting before a frame of footage is shot. As soon as an actor is chosen for a hotly contested role, the internet starts to melt down as people debate why he or she will or won’t rule or suck - as shown in the last couple of weeks by the casting of Ben Affleck and Charlie Hunnam in hot-button roles. There were casting controversies before, of course, but online in the last few years it’s stepped up to a whole new level. Here are the biggest casting kerfuffles old and new, and how they turned out…
*The film:* 50 Shades Of Grey (2014)
*The actor: Sons Of Anarchy’s finest and recently blockbuster star of Pacific Rim.
**The character*: Billionaire S&M devotee
When the we-can’t-believe-they-are-actually-making-it ‘literary’ adaptation announced its casting this week, there was something of a stir among fans, who have been campaigning for months on behalf of White Collar’s Matt Bomer on the basis that he’s wildly charming and also exactly as the character is described on the page. Instead, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author EL James have gone for Hunnam (and, presumably, some hair dye) as the billionaire S&M addict who’s into domination, particularly vis-à-vis young Anastasia Steele – also announced as Dakota Johnson. Can Hunnam wield the whip convincingly? James seems happy and says (according to Bret Easton Ellis) that Bomer was never in the running.
*The fans preferred: *Matt Bomer. There’s currently a petition out there with 20,000 signatures asking for Bomer to be cast, with Alexis Bleidel as Anastasia Steel (Johnson’s role).
*The result:* Only time will tell if this leaves us in the red room of pain or communing with our inner goddess.
Vote: What would you have done?
*The film:* Jack Reacher (2012)
*The actor: Global mega-star for nearly 3 decades. Intensely charismatic daredevil.
**The character*: Tough-ass drifter. Strong, silent type.
Given that Jack Reacher is described as being 6’5”, 220-250lbs and 50” around the chest, you can understand why Hollywood might struggle to cast him. Those are about the dimensions of The Rock, dwarfing even the likes of Jackman, Schreiber and Tatum – and Reacher’s also only in his 30s when the story starts. But when the filmmakers decided to focus on character instead and went for Cruise, the internet went crazy. Typical comments included, “What an unbelievable joke. That shrimp Tom Cruise can NO WAY play Reacher. I won't pay to see this garbage.” “Is this a sick joke?? How on earth can they cast a midget to play a 6' 5" hero? What craziness is going on here? Lee Child should have said I want an unknown.”
*The fans preferred: *Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Liam Neeson, Aaron Eckhart, Pee Wee Herman (that last one might not have been serious).
*The result:* It didn’t quite take off either for fans or the general public. Cruise got moderately good notices in general, but didn't blow anyone away.
Vote: What would you have done?
*The film:* Interview With The Vampire (1994)
*The actor: Global mega-star for one decade, at the time. Intensely charismatic clean-cut leading man.
**The character*: Slinky decadant vampire of unclear sexual preference.
Here’s a case where the book’s author, Anne Rice – not a woman known for being backward in coming forward – was moved to condemn the casting of the lead. "Tom Cruise is no more my Lestat then Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler," she initially said. In an interview a little later she softened slightly. “I just don't know. The Tom Cruise casting is so bizarre, it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work... I have one question: Does Tom Cruise have any idea of what he's getting into? I'm not sure he does.”
*Rice preferred:* Jeremy Irons, who she admired in Damage; John Malkovich, Alexander Godunov, Peter Weller, Brad Pitt, Angelica Huston (yes, really).
*The result:* Rice went nuts for Cruise when the film appeared, saying, “From the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me.”
Does this make you happy? Is this fitting, proper enough?
*The Film:* Thor (2011)
*The actor: Towering TV star with talent to burn and enough natural authority to launch a monarchy.
**The character*: Towering Norse god with power to burn and enough natural authority to keep track of the whole Nine Realms at once.
Some bunch of racists called the “Council Of Conservative Citizens” (acronym is therefore CCC and not, as you might think, KKK; more on them here) got all up in arms when the magnificent Idris Elba was cast as the Gatekeeper to Asgard in Thor. These bigots said that Marvel had “declared war on Norse mythology” with “an insulting multi-cultural makeover” because “now mythological gods must be re-invented with black skin”. Never mind that Heimdall’s mate flies with the aid of a magical hammer, according to these idiots the part that really seems unbelieveable about these aliens-who-early-man-thought-were-Norse-gods is that one of them might have differently coloured skin.
*Protestors preferred:* Somebody Aryan. They didn’t seem to have much in the way of constructive suggestions.
*The result:* Idris Elba cancelled their apocalypse and proved so freakin’ awesome that he gets more to do in the sequel. Lu-thor! Racism smash!
Vote: Will you uphold your sacred oath to protect this realm as its gatekeeper?
*The film:* Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)
*The actress: So-hot-right-then Chinese star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House Of Flying Daggers and more.
**The character*: So-hot-right-then geisha Chiyo.
This was a nationality thing. The novel is partly set during World War II, during which the Japanese invaded China and, among other atrocities, conscripted Chinese women as sex workers. Since the word for “prostitute” and “geisha” is rather similar in Chinese, the recruitment of Chinese actors for the leads was controversial. In Japan, there were grumbles that the Japanese characters were portrayed by Chinese stars, but since Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh outgrossed basically every Japanese star even at the Japanese box-office, these were largely ignored.
*Protestors preferred:* A Japanese star; they didn’t seem too worried which one. Masami Nagasawa, perhaps, or Rie Miyazawa or Koyuki
*The result:* An OK but underwhelming $162m worldwide and a fistful of Oscar nominations, mostly in technical categories.
Vote: Can Zhang Ziyi stop you in your tracks with a single look?
*The film:* Casino Royale (2006)
*The actor: Lauded star of quality dramas like Enduring Love. Bruiser. Blond.
**The character*: Super-spy with a taste for the finer things in life. Brunette.
James Bond is a suave, sophisticated spy who moves easily through worlds high and low, preferably in a Savile Row suit and carrying a vodka martini in a deep champagne goblet. Daniel Craig, when cast in the role, was best known for playing a gangster in Layer Cake, a poet, an assassin. Now that should all add up to Bond, but for some, Craig was “average, rough if not downright ugly”, too blue-collar, too blond to play Bond. They even set up a website called CraigNotBond to try to spearhead a campaign to unseat him.
*Protestors preferred:* The return of Pierce Brosnan, or perhaps the casting of Clive Owen or Hugh Jackman.
*The result:* A critical and box-office smash with Casino Royale and the first billion-dollar Bond with Skyfall. CraigNotBond.com is no longer operational.
Vote: But what will you be calling your casting website?
*The film:* Dr. No (1962)
*The actor: The star of Darby O’Gill And The Little People. Scot. Bodybuilder.
**The character*: Super-spy with a taste for the finer things in life. Englishman.
It’s another author throwing a hissy fit over the treatment of their cherished character. Ian Fleming was initially against the casting of Sean Connery as Bond; he was appalled at the idea of casting a working-class Scot as the English spy. After all, you can’t have the Celts storming in and pretending to be English! That would be like casting a man with a patently Scottish accent as a Russian submarine commander, or an English king, or an Egyptian immortal!
*Flemyng preferred:* A young up-and-comer called Christopher Lee, who also happened to be his cousin.
The result: Fleming was completely won over by Connery’s portrayal – as was everyone, ever – and even introduced a Scottish ancestry for his spy in the next book he wrote, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Vote: Sho whatsh your viewsh on thish cashting newsh?
*The film:* Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
*The actress: Gamine Dutch starlet known for her class.
**The character*: Flighty kept society girl with depths,
Given that the character is described by author Truman Capote as an “American geisha”, he always imagined a girl whose attractions were, well, pretty front-and-centre. When the novella was turned into a film, he had a clear favourite in mind. “Marilyn [Monroe] was always my first choice to play the girl, Holly Golightly." But, said Capote, “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey" – who gave a delicate and charming performance that, as it turned out, made the story a very different one but a success all the same.
*Capote preferred:* Original choice Marilyn Monroe, who was set to star until her acting coach convinced her that playing a prostitute would be bad for her image.
*The result:* Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her role, and the film has gone on to become a classic. The really appalling casting, to modern eyes, was Mickey Rooney as a ‘comedy’ Japanese character called Mr Yunioshi.
Vote: So how does this make you feel?
*The film:* The Lone Ranger (2013)
*The actor: Eccentric mega-star known for turning certain flops into massive hits. Caucasian.
**The character*: Capable sidekick to The Lone Ranger. Native American.
Johnny Depp’s casting as Tonto makes sense from a box-office perspective, given that the film sees him reunite with his Pirates Of The Caribbean director and producers. But from an ethnic perspective, not quite so much. While the actor has some small measure of Native American blood, he’s by no means a full Comanche, although he apparently spent a lot of time with the tribe when preparing for the role. For many, it was a return to the bad old days of “whitewashed” casting where white stars were cast as ethnic leads; for others, that was the least of the film’s problems.
*Protestors preferred:* Really any Native American. Gil Birmingham, who appeared in The Lone Ranger and also the Twilight movies, was mentioned by name, as was Adam Beech.
*The result: A box-office and (in the US, especially) critical flop. That wasn’t entirely *down to Depp’s casting, however.
Vote: Was casting Depp as Tonto what the Spanish would call a "decisión tonta"?
*The film:* The Dark Knight (2008)
*The actor: An Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain, former teen heartthrob, one-time knight.
**The character*: Demented sociopath with a thing for chaos.
You know how this one turned out, so it’s a little hard to remember that back in the day Ledger’s casting seemed like a risk to many people. Some couldn’t get past his teen roles in the likes of 10 Things I Hate About You (which is actually rather good) while others, inevitably, made Brokeback jokes ad nauseam. “Ledger hasn’t done anything to suggest he can pull off the psychotic/scary Joker that everyone wants, instead of the silly, campy ass Joker we’ll probably get,” said one commenter. “That’s it, the franchise is over,” said another.
*Protestors preferred:* Crispin Glover’s name came up often, as did that of Guy Pearce.
*The result: *A towering, iconic performance that earned Ledger a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Tragically, it was accepted posthumously by his family after Ledger’s sad death.
Vote: Do you wanna know how he got these scars?
*The film:* Gone With The Wind (1939)
*The actress: British actress who had been making films at home for four years but who had never made a Hollywood movie.
**The character*: Southern belle who fell for the wrong man and ignored the right one.
Oh, fiddle-dee-dee. Uber-producer David O. Selznick staged a two-year casting hunt for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara, since the role was the Bella Swan / Batman of its day. Rumour has it that he actually fixed on Leigh early on but, ever the showman, kept taking meetings; others say they only met during the Atlanta fire sequence that he collected before starting principal photography. Either way, there was an outcry from fans that the ultimate Southern belle was to be played by a Brit, and the pressure was on for Leigh to nail the accent quick-smart.
*Protestors preferred:* Paulette Goddard was the last-but-one candidate, but author Margaret Mitchell’s rumoured preference was Miriam Hopkins, who was a real Southerner.
*The result:* Still the highest-grossing film of all time in the US if you adjust for inflation, and eight Oscars including a Best Actress win for Leigh. Oh, and Mitchell thought she was perfect.
Vote: What did you think of Leigh?
*The film:* Batman Vs. Superman (2015)
*The actor: Oscar-winning writer of Good Will Hunting, Oscar-winning filmmaker of Argo, non-Oscar-nominated actor.
**The character*: Every man’s favourite billionaire playboy vigilante who dresses as a bat.
Well this escalated quickly – it really got out of hand. No sooner had Ben Affleck been announced as Batman than the internet lost its freakin’ mind. 90,000 signed a petition against it; people compared the news to getting divorced; “Today I woke up to a nightmare rather than from one” said another (read more here). It did inspire some laughs, however: @studioexec1 tweeted, ‘I've just seen Christian Bale going to Affleck's apartment with some Huey Lewis records and an axe.’ Affleck’s probably just glad that Miley Cyrus finally came along and gave everyone something else to be outraged about.
*Protestors preferred:* Josh Brolin, if going for an older Batman; Ryan Gosling; Tyler Hoechlin; any other brunette in Hollywood.
*The result:* Remains to be seen, but we’re trusting to Affleck’s huge love of the character and good recent acting work to carry him through.
Vote: What's your take on Batfleck?