Some say that Hollywood is running out of ideas, what with all the sequels, reboots, and adaptations in the makings this generation. Personally, I think there’s a lot more too it than that. Firstly, as an English major, I can confirm that humans have been retelling classic stories and myths since our earliest cultures. In fact, nearly every single one of William Shakespeare’s 37 plays were inspired, if not blatant knock offs, of previously written stories. There is a joy we as human beings receive from watching the tales of our past evolve over time and expand into new mediums. Secondly, we are at a point in time where technology in the movie making industry has been refined and polished to a point where almost anything is possible. Until a few years ago, people thought a Watchmen movie could never be filmed. Ten years ago, if you told me Marvel Comics would create their own movie studio, make continually successful movies for some of their most low key heroes while keeping all of them within the same continuity, and then have them all come together for an all-out Avengers movie, I’d have had to fight the urge to laugh in your face, and [sadly enough] I was a pretty gullible kid, so that’s saying something.
So where exactly am I going with this, you may ask? Well if Hollywood is due to keep making more live action adaptations of books, graphic novels, cartoon shows, or [heaven forbid] video games, I’ll be the first to say I’m all for it, but only under the grounds that Hollywood starts being good at it. The element I will be focusing on is, quite ironically, the most non-technical element in making a movie: its casting.
Why is that important?
To begin, perhaps I should answer the simple question of “why?” Why should casting be as crucial as I’m about to make it seem? Surely there are a ton more relevant people involved in making a movie good, you know like an appropriate director, professional writer, cinematographer, effects artists, stunt choreographers, etc, etc. A good cast won’t help a movie suck any less if its crew, its foundation, is a mess to begin with, so why should it be given such precedence? Well, because it’s the first and most effective way to sell the movie to its audience. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know how the movie industry works or how casting directors go about their business, but as an audience member, I’ve seen the results of good and bad casting, and more often than not it has been our first huge hint at just how committed the creators will be to a movie’s source material. I mean, how can we expect the creators to not butcher anything else about a story such as its plot, mythology, etcetera, if they can’t even get the main characters right? On the flip side, I’m sure we can all name at least one live action adaptation of a comic or cartoon where the casting was more perfect than we could possibly imagine.
So, without further ado, here are the guidelines I have created for casting a live action movie of, well just about anything. And I hope my editor will not mind if I cliff note a few of the steps he laid out in one of his early reviews. [Pranger's Note: I do not mind, it just means you've been paying attention!]
Step 1: Find actors that look like the characters from the show.
True story about Sin City: Before Robert Rodriguez even got his cast, he sent the actors he wanted footage of the opening credits that featured their names beside pictures strait from graphic novel of their respective characters. That was all they needed. A good chunk of them immediately jumped on board.
I’ve seen Adaptations with actors who don’t resemble the original incarnation of the character they are playing at all, yet they do their best to bring out their own version of the character. I’ve also seen actors who look like they literally jumped off the page/tv screen of wherever their character came from. As an audience member, unless the director was named Christopher Nolan, the later is almost ALWAYS the more appealing rout. It’s not even that hard of a rule to follow. Watch the show, pay close attention to the character’s height, weight, age and ethnicity, then go find an actor/actress that has the corresponding traits. Here, I’ll do one right now.
What we have here is probably one of the easiest One Piece characters (if not anime characters in general) to cast. He is so stereotypically American that there is no way anyone can complain about him being cast by a famous white guy. But which famous white guy? Well lets see: Mid-late 30’s, yet with the demeanor of someone barely out of their 20’s, really tall, the build of a gorilla, massive chin, shades. Yup, only one man for the job:
Now if only finding the perfect fit was always that easy. Unfortunately, it won’t be. Animated series of late, especially anime, display human characters that are far more diverse in race, culture, and style. Casting directors NEED to put honest effort in respecting each of these elements when they make their choices. If Hollywood continues to pull more white-washing crap like they’ve done with Prince of Persia, The Last Airbender, Dragonball Evolution, or… the freaking Smurfs for that matter, then they’re just asking to be shot in the face.
Step 2: Make actors look exactly like the characters from the show.
Once you have the actors you need, now’s the time for the fashion department to get busy. Have your costume designers and your hair/makeup artists study the source material like crazy. Their first and [ideally] final draft of the actor’s wardrobe should look like an exact replica of the outfits from the show. You can pull the ‘but-costumes-in-2D-animation-don’t-translate-well-on-3D-bodies’ excuse all you want, I don’t give a mouse’s donkey. If Captain America’s mask looking a little silly is the price we have to pay for authentic live action costumes, than I’ll gladly pay it. Why? Because the alternative is… well… this.
And this goes far beyond the wardrobe. Fans are very keen at picking up scars, tattoos, and other body additions. Heck, even eye color can be a crucial element in defining a character. Forget the slightest thing, and someone will undoubtedly call it out. Don’t tamper with things either, like they did with Aang’s arrows or Zuko’s scar. Character defining marks like those were made for the soul purpose of looking abnormal. Trying to work around them to make them seem realistic is completely missing the point.
Step 3: Don’t be afraid of kids.
Did you know that the part of Robin in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever back in 1995 was originally written to be played by a young teenager? Yeah, I was surprised myself, but in hindsight, I think that would have worked much better than Chris O’Donnell. Fast Forward to just last year, for anyone who went to see Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s: The Lightning Thief, unless you were already familiar with the books, would you guess that Percy and his friends were suppose to be twelve years old? I didn’t, but since someone pointed it out to me, it became all too obvious that something felt off.
Movie developers! STOP aging your characters simply because you don’t want the challenge of working with kids that have little-to-no acting experience. It just shows you are being safe and not willing to take risks. The Harry Potter movies would never have worked out if they played that card. Sure, Dan, Rupert, and Emma’s acting in the first two movies weren’t all that great. But we forgive them because, by the third movie, they got a lot better! Not only that, we got to watch them in the process of improving their performance. It was a wonderful thing to witness.
Also, has anyone not seen Super 8 yet? I mention it because if there is one thing that movie does, it proves once and for all that good kid actors do in fact exist. In this very generation. They are out there, you just have to look hard enough.
Step 4: Exceptions Do Exist.
This is the trickiest part of all because I’m about to retract a lot of what I just said. First of all, yes, it is perfectly okay for a few minor characters in a series that are originally suppose to be white, like Nick Fury or Heimdall, to be contrived for ethnic minorities, but it is completely unacceptable for main characters who are of color to be cast by white actors. It is a Double Standard that I will unabashedly stand by. Reasons behind my stance would be far too convoluted and wordy for me to rail about right here and now, but for those of you who desperately need an explanation right this instant, I’d advise you to watch this.
Racial issue aside, I can totally get behind some liberties that allow actors to portray new sides our favorite characters. Alan Rickman didn’t look exactly how Snape was pictured in the books, with the crocked nose, slick hair, and wicked looking mustache, but he did so well with what he was given that we were convinced nonetheless. Heath Ledger’s Joker was such a far departure from the pinstriped gang leader with a sexy poltergeist secretary that we grew up with on the animated series. He took some serious risks and ended up winning a posthumous Oscar for it.
One thing to consider is that the number of liberties a live action movie would be able to get away with may also depend on how often we have previously seen said comic/ TV series adapted properly in the past. In 2001 if you told me an upcoming African TV star was in the running for the role of Peter Parker in the first official Spider-man movie, no way would I be prepared for that. But it’s 2011 now, and I’ve already seen three (soon to be four) Spider-man movies where the lead looked (more or less) exactly as I pictured our hero from the comics and the animated series. At this point, I would be more than welcoming the idea of Community star Donald Glover playing a new rebooted Spider-man. Unfortunately, Sony Pictures wasn’t ready to take that risk, but guess who was? Marvel Comics themselves. Only a few months after all this controversy, Marvel announced that their new upcoming Ultimate Spider-man project: following the death of Peter Parker, a whole new wall-crawler will take the reins, who is in fact a half-black, half-hispanic teenager. If only Deadpool were here to make an obnoxiously witty jab about how ironic that situation is.
To finish off, let us let good ol’ Barakapool leave a valuable message to all of us: exceptions exist, but tread cautiously. Very very cautiously.
And there, as briefly as I possibly could, is my two cents on how casting for Live Action Adaptations of comics, cartoons and other mediums should be done in Hollywood. Of course the most obvious backlash I could receive from these statements is… “Well if it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?” And you know what? That’s a very good question.
Stay tuned, and I just might give that some thought.