This week’s question comes from reader Patrick Simpson:
I’ve long thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have made the perfect Spiderman, but he’s now a little too old to convincingly play a high school or even college age version of our friendly neighborhood web slinger. So, my question is this: Is there an actor who you think would have been perfect for a role, but is now just too old to play that part?
Even if he were still alive, the late Raúl Juliá would be way too old to play Max Linder. Besides being a dead ringer for the silent-era legend, Juliá had the right balance of ham charisma and actorly grace to play the tragic figure of Linder in a biopic, charting the dandy-ish French comedian’s life from his rise to fame as one of film’s earliest stars to his traumatic experiences during World War I and his eventual spiral into depression, which ended in a double suicide with his young wife. Though I can bore you with all of the dumb, untenable biopic ideas I’ve had over the years (“Roberts Blossom is… Houseley Stevenson”), I’ll give you one more good one: Wallace Shawn circa 1990 taking on a rare lead role as director Billy Wilder, preferably in a ’50s period piece directed by Alan Rudolph.
Here’s my ideal superhero movie: We open on a busy city street. An unattended little girl steps out into the road. A truck barrels down on her… and she’s gone, whisked away by a mysterious red blur. We follow the blur as it moves through the city, foiling bank robberies, stopping disasters, and doing it all at lightning speed. Finally, it comes to a stop in an alley behind a police station. The figure reaches up to pull off its iconic red mask, revealing Big-era Tom Hanks as The Flash. With all due respect to The CW’s Grant Gustin (who’s great) and Warner Bros.’ Ezra Miller (who’ll probably be fine), I can’t imagine anyone capturing the geeky, cheerful charm of Barry Allen better than a late-’80s, early-’90s Hanks. Of all the big superheroes, The Flash is the one who’s always seemed like he’s having the most fun while he’s at it, and that’s something the Hanks of yesteryear could basically do in his sleep. (It doesn’t hurt that Hanks has literally begged for superhero roles in the past, up to and including asking for The Flash by name.) Ah, what might have been, had the rise of the superhero movie more closely coincided with the more kid-like periods of his storied career.
Now that he’s entering the silver fox, elder-statesman phase of his career, it’s too late to imagine him conceivably being right for the role, but for a long time, I couldn’t think of anyone better than Snatch-era Brad Pitt to play the part of Preacher’s vampire Cassidy. I understand that looks-wise, he’s not quite the red-haired Irish rapscallion portrayed in the comics, but for a brief period of time in the late ’90s and early aughts, no one embodied that kind of easygoing swagger as perfectly as Pitt. His movie-star magnetism would’ve channeled perfectly into the idiosyncratic fluidity of Cassidy, and Pitt is never better than when he’s morphing himself into some strange character-actor role, rather than playing the hero. On top of that, he’s already played both a vampire and an Irish traveller, so fusing those characteristics wouldn’t be much of a challenge. If I ever get that time machine working, pulling Pitt out of the past and into AMC’s upcoming adaptation would be third on my list, after killing Hitler and stopping every iteration of the Fantastic Four movies from happening.
After reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver in the mid-’90s for the first time, I began dream-casting a film adaptation that would have starred Elijah Wood as Jonas. At the time, Wood would have been just about the right age to portray the boy who was given humanity’s history as a rite of passage. He had already played a boy who knew more than he ought to know about how the world works in Radio Flyer, which saw the young actor play a character who struggled to protect his younger brother from their abusive father. The emotional maturity he displayed in the role, especially as he helped his brother plan his escape, would have made him a perfect fit for Jonas.
I will never have a pop-culture desire I feel as strongly as wanting Viggo Mortensen to play Doctor Strange. For a while it seemed as if it might actually happen. As the current Marvel movie juggernaut began churning into motion, studio execs tried reaching out to the actor in hopes of discussing the part. Mortensen never returned their overtures and the role went, as all roles must, to the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is near 20 years Mortensen’s junior, but the nature of the Doctor means he could be portrayed by a wide age range. The character is an experienced adventurer, marked by salt-and-pepper hair and a hard confidence. Mortensen is sufficiently care-worn, projecting confidence while still capable of reacting in naked awe to whatever bizarreness Strange encounters. Even so, Doctor Strange is probably coming out 10 years too late. The movie will be, as the superhero genre mandates, an origin story following the character’s beginning as a narcissistic surgeon who discovers both humility and a bitchin’ magic cape in the wake of a life-changing accident. Were it to take place well into the Doctor’s career, featuring a venerable and established Master Of Magic, Mortensen remains a fantastic choice. As it is, 57 is just slightly too old to embark on a new career path of alliteration-based spell casting.
Here’s one that was actually lost to the sands of time (and, presumably, the rigorous demands of The Love Guru): Mike Myers as Keith Moon. The bright idea of the Wayne’s World star playing the late Who drummer tumbled through the rumor mill for most of the 2000s, but even then Myers was nearly a decade older than Moon was at the time of his fatal overdose. He’s never shown an aversion to performing under heavy prosthetics, but making Myers circa 2016 look like one of the fresh-faced mods on the cover of The Who Sings My Generation is a challenge that would defeat the best makeup teams in the biz. And that would only get in the way of the best reason for casting Myers in the role: Capturing Moon’s manic, mugging physicality. Myers has long since aged out of the role—he wasn’t attached when the biopic was re-announced in 2013—but that just means the producers have lost their ideal human match for Moon. With a boundless energy, an ageless appearance, and Moon’s influence running through both his playing style and personal grooming habits, Muppet drummer Animal is begging to bang out those monstrous fills in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Ever since I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, my friends and I have been fantasy-casting the movie that has yet to be made. It’s not surprising that Michael Chabon’s long, detailed novel wouldn’t make a simple, instant transition into film, but it still broke my heart when it became clear the movie wouldn’t be able to go ahead with our ideal choices. That fake cast actually also included Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing Sam Clay (I know, he doesn’t necessarily scream Jewish New Yorker from the 1940s, but this was around the time he was taking a variety of chameleon-like parts); Natalie Portman, who actually was cast at some point, as Rosa Saks; and David Krumholtz as Joe Kavalier. I’ve enjoyed Krumholtz in his various small parts over the years, and always thought he could’ve done well with a meatier role. I still like seeing him pop up all over the place (like in Hail, Caesar! recently) but I grudgingly admit that he, Gordon-Levitt, and Portman have all aged out of parts that require them to begin a movie as teenagers, with most of the action taking place in their 20s. Krumholtz will have to move onto my other dream project for him: something where he plays Jake Johnson’s brother.
In an ideal world, Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s dilemma as to who to cast in their Star Wars spinoff would be easy: Go back in time and pluck a 25-year-old carpenter from obscurity a decade ahead of schedule. But failing that, my ideal casting move that doesn’t involve time travel is Aaron Paul as young Han Solo. Paul’s a tremendous actor, who’s perfectly suited to play a charming scoundrel who would definitely shoot Greedo first (which is unambiguously what Han Solo did). But more importantly, Paul showed us on Breaking Bad that he can excel at Han’s stock in trade—escaping by the skin of his teeth when everything around him goes to shit. Paul doesn’t quite have Harrison Ford’s natural confidence, and that works in his favor too—if we want to see Han before he met Luke, we want to see a version of the character who hasn’t yet convinced himself he always has the answers. We want just what Aaron Paul has—charm, nerve, and a constant worry that it might all blow up in his face. Only trouble is, Paul is the same age Ford was when the original Star Wars was filmed, so we’re back to plan A, and 25-year-old Harrison Ford. If Lord and Miller could pull off The Lego Movie, I’m sure a little time travel won’t be a problem for them.
In 2013, Naomi Watts was attached to play Marilyn Monroe in an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, which happens to be one of my favorite books. Even then, I thought Watts was too old to play Oates’ version of Monroe (Watts is now 47, Monroe died at 36), but how great would she be in the epic, fractured fairy tale? Watts broke through in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and she handled that material masterfully so clearly she doesn’t need a straight narrative to work her magic. That promise of greatness is only bolstered by the prospect of attached director Andrew Dominick (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) who could translate Blonde’s dreamy, yet bleak style to the screen. In 2014, Jessica Chastain had taken over for Watts, but I’ve heard little of the adaptation since. I’m sure Chastain would be great as Oates’ Monroe (if that ever happens), but she doesn’t excite me as much as Watts who deserves a commanding starring vehicle that Blonde could give her.
As I’ve written about before, I have a complicated relationship with the Harry Potter franchise (love the books, never seen a frame of the movies). But for me there will only ever be one Remus Lupin: Ewan McGregor. McGregor’s been my mental image for Lupin ever since the scruffy professor was introduced in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. He’s tortured and insecure, but also charming and slightly roguish—all qualities McGregor can perfectly embody while bringing just enough werewolf swagger to the role. But while 44-year-old McGregor could probably play the character right now (David Thewlis was 41 when he was cast in the third movie), by the time they get around to rebooting the Harry Potter franchise, he’ll be far too old to play a 30-something professor. So his fantastic would-be portrayal will have to exist solely in my mind, alongside a Lord Of The Rings-era Viggo Mortensen as Sirius Black.
Growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and the animated X-Men series, my siblings and I knew that Patrick Stewart was Prof. X, even if we doubted a live action film would ever happen. Stewart was so obviously the best and only choice that it was never a conversation. The only other fantasy casting I can remember ever feeling as strongly about is Angela Bassett as Storm. When Stewart was cast in the first X-Men film, my geek heart skipped, and I kept everything crossed, hoping against hope Bassett would be next. Instead we got Halle Berry and as time has clicked on, I’ve begrudgingly accepted that barring a time jump to an older version of the character, my vision of the badass, powerful, regal Storm that Bassett would give us will likely never grace the silver screen. Bassett oozes authority and confidence, she has the physicality to sell the action set pieces required of an X-Man, and she’s equally adept at comedy and drama, game for whatever’s asked of her. For my money, Storm is the X-Man to get shortest shrift in the film adaptations thus far and I’d love to see Bassett as a 50-something Storm centering the next installment, but given franchise’s move to cast younger versions of the characters with each reintroduction, I don’t see it happening. Oh well, I’ll have to settle for Bryan Fuller’s previously expressed desire to see Bassett captain the USS Enterprise. (Fingers recrossed!)
There are probably plenty of people who’d argue that he could still pull it off even now, but it’s disappointing to me that we didn’t get a Superman movie about 15-20 years ago starring John Barrowman. Not that it’s such a bad thing that we’ve gotten to enjoy his work on Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Arrow, not to mention plenty of other non-genre efforts, but Barrowman’s ability to make both men and women swoon is well-documented, so it’s easy to picture him decked out with a big red “S” on his chest. What’s funny, though, is that I didn’t realize until I had already started writing this entry that Barrowman actually did audition for Bryan Singer for the lead in Superman Returns. Still, it all worked out for the best: If he’d gotten the gig as Kal-El, we almost certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see him take the spotlight as Captain Jack Harkness.
Even before he died, Philip Seymour Hoffman was already too old for a role I think he would be absolutely perfect for: Ignatius J. Reilly, the pompous boob and self-styled intellectual at the core of A Confederacy Of Dunces. The film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously released triumph has long been one of show-business’ most troubled and cursed properties. Through the years everyone from John Belushi to John Waters to Will Ferrell and David Gordon Green have been attached to the property as directors or lead actors but no cinematic adaptation has ever gotten very far. That’s too bad, because a 28-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been perfect for the lead. Physically, Hoffman more than fit the part, and he specialized in the kind of delusional arrogance and myopic pretension that make the character such an enduring source of merriment for decades of readers. So he would have been perfect for the part, but alas, it will never happen.