Last week, I gave a crash course in how to appropriately cast a Hollywood adaptation of a popular franchise that originates in a separate medium than film. Well now I’m back, and as I promised and after giving it some thought, it is only fair that I now take my own shot at casting a specific property. This is the dawn of a whole new segment here at Toy-TMA that I call Page To Screen. This is where we cast the movies Hollywood will never make. For our very first segment, I will be casting a property from one of the most difficult mediums to cast in: anime.
Anime brings an especially huge challenge as, plain and simple, its source material comes from a country that’s culture is vastly unique from our own. Too often anime adaptations in the states tend to have a trouble grasping that culture in a way that feels genuine, which leads to Americanizing the core of the story in question. This then leads to abominations like Godzilla (1998) and Dragonball Evolution. The anime I have chosen for today however is a little different. Unlike anime shows like DBZ, Naruto, Samurai 7, and Samurai Champloo, all of which are grounded pretty deep in Japanese history, folklore, mythology, etc., this series culture is all over the place. One island we’re searching for a doctor in Alaskan-esque Tundra. The next, we’re roaming the desserts to save an Arabian/Eqyptian-esque Kingdom. After that, it’s treasure hunting in Aztecian-esque ruins in an island in the sky. The main characters themselves are a multi cultural band of misfits from all walks of life.
- “Screw Fishman Island! Let’s go to Hollywood!!!”
I am of course once again talking about my latest obsession, One Piece, the anime of 510 episodes and counting. Given the series’ vast popularity in Japan and just about everywhere else that’s not America, I would not be surprised if Toei or some other Japanese film company makes the movie themselves upon the series’ completion in another decade or so. But since I lack both that kind of patience and the optimism to believe that it would ever receive an international release, I am going to pretend I live in an alternate universe where Hollywood would make this movie anyway. So without further ado, let’s set sail on a journey to cast our heroes.
Monkey D. Luffy
To start with our leading man, we have someone who seemingly should be very simple, because he has “Hollywood Average Joe in his Prime” written all over his face. 17 years old, average height, healthy weight, dark hair, perfect skin, with just a tiny scar under one of his eyes to give the idea that he’s slightly flawed but not really. Aesthetically, he looks so ambiguous that he could even be pulled off by either an Asian or Caucasian actor almost evenly. Yet as relatable and opportunistic as his looks are, it actually make it more challenging.
Finding some random guy who looks like Luffy, or simply making someone look like Luffy, is easy. Yet finding someone who can take on his grotesque amount of energy and spirit is far more crucial in capturing his character. I’d want however plays him to be extremely optimistic, even hyperactive (similar to how they mention Dan Radcliff behaved on the set of Harry Potter). So while I may have about a dozen young male actors that crop up in my mind, I would like to give this one a little more thought. In the mean time, lets have a look my choices for the rest of Luffy’s crew.
Rain as Roronoa Zoro
Luffy’s first mate: former bounty hunter and a master santoryu (three sword style). Ideally, I would like all the first five Straw Hats to start off as young kid actors (roughly early teens) to give them room to grow up throughout the series. However, most of the actors I will choose here are just for a one-shot movie separate from the main storyline, so they stand more as guidelines to how I picture the characters all grown up. So while Rain’s age is 28 when Zoro is only 19, he would eventually be that age half way through the movie series. This is also coupled with the fact that Zoro always looks at least 5 years older than he actually is.
I’ll admit that of all my choices, this was the hardest to settle on. I would prefer Zoro to be Japanese — even though he has a slightly tanner complexion that would suggest South Korean (Rain’s ethnicity) — namely because all his attacks are said in Japanese and are Japanese names for animals and spirits. Unfortunately I’m on a time crunch and all the Japanese actors I am knowledgeable of are either way too old or I have lined up for other characters. I have chosen Rain strictly for performance reasons. Rain’s most recent performance was as the lead in Ninja Assassin, a film I have not seen, but the general consensus from everyone I talk to has been “pretty much crap in the story, writing, and acting department, but the action is pretty effing sweet.” This is perfectly fine because, no offense, of all nine Straw Hats, Zoro is easily the one character you have to worry about acting the least. There was one single scene in the entire 500+ episode run where he actually broke down and cried, and that’s it. Every tender moment onward is handled completely straight-faced. Next to Luffy, he is the second most-loved character in the entire series strictly for his badass motif alone, and if there is one thing we know Rain can pull off, it’s being a badass. All he needs is a bandana and plenty of green hair die, and our Mr. Bushido is ready.
Jena Malone as Nami
A master thief and the ship’s Navigator. Like Luffy, Nami is a bit of a wild card when it comes to ethnicity. I almost want to say she’s Australian, but a long-time One Piece fan swears to me that she’s Swedish. Anyway, after seeing Sucker Punch earlier this year, I couldn’t help but watch the girl who played Rocket, Jena Malone, as she just kind of struck a cord with me. She’s really good at playing the vulnerable-little-girl card then turning on a dime and being a serious hard case, which you definitely need for Nami. I can most certainly see her being assertive and bossy, not to mention quite selfish. Plus, it’s just hard to deny that she looks the part really well. Okay, so no real women will ever have breasts like that, but let’s be realistic here.
Noah Gray-Cabey as Usopp
Usopp: a man of pride, whose knack for tall tales is matched only by his skills as an ace marksman. And lookie here, I was able to find at least one kid who would be the appropriate age of said character in a few years. Some of you might recognize Noah as Micah, the machine-talking young son of Nikki and DL Saunders back when Heroes didn’t suck. This is a casting choice I’ve had my eye on for some time. The guy seems like a fine young performer, yet I haven’t seen him in a whole lot since he was written out of the Heroes story. It would be quite interesting to see him tackle a character as spontaneous and compounded as Usopp, though it is also kinda funny how both Micah and Usopp have alternate aliases (Micah going by the codename Rebel in the Fugitives arc, and Usopp in disguise as Sogeking during the Enies Lobby arc). Anyway, whether young Mr. Gray-Cabey is destined to be the King of Snipers is a huge toss up, though it would be fun.
Tom Felton as Sanji
Cook. Ladies man. High Kicking Martial Artist. Sanji is a little bit of everything, and as for my top-of-my-head choice to play him, I’m going with Draco Malfoy himself, Tom Felton. Now, similar to my choice for Zoro, not exactly ideal. I would much rather prefer Sanji to be French instead of British, unfortunately I don’t know any young French actors off the top of my head. And yet, not similar to Zoro, Felton is a very good actor, and as such, he may be able to pull off a fairly good French accent. In fact Zoro and Sanji themselves are meant to be rivals within the crew, and having Felton being a prestigious actor contrast with Rain just being a prestigious fighter would make an interesting parallel.
With that being said, probably the biggest challenge for Felton would be the physical aspect. He may have been a wizard for ten years, but now he would have to make us believe he is the third strongest member of the crew (even stronger than Chopper or Franky, whom we will get to). He’s already in good shape, it’s just a matter of putting his feet through the ringer and/or getting a good stunt double. Still, you gotta admit that it would be nice to see this guy play a character that is actually likable, funny, and not a complete asshole.
Tony Tony Chopper as Himself
The walking talking blue-nosed man-reindeer and the ships’ doctor. Now I’ve thought about this over and over again, and as cool as it would be to see someone make real life costumes for Chopper with authentic animatronics, I just don’t see it being feasible with all of his different transformations. For me, the best route would be to use CGI over motion capture artists. While filming his scenes, use a little person to mo-cap Chopper in his main form (it doesn’t have to be Verne Troyer. I’m sure there are plenty of other little people actors out there who would do just as good a job) and another really big guy to mo-cap chopper in his bigger forms like the Heavy Point (right) Jumping Point, and Arm Point. I would recommend whoever mo-caped Hulk in the 2008 film. As for Chopper’s actual reindeer forms, it’s up to the CGI artists to study movement of actual reindeer in the wild and map them to the character.
What this all means is that for Chopper’s voice work, we can hire Brina Palencia to reprise her role as Chopper from the anime. Say what you want about the quality of English dubs, Brina Palencia is really good. Chopper’s voice in the Funimation Dub became one of my favorite English voices in the whole show.
I know Chopper. You’re still upset, but don’t worry, your mo-cap artists will get all the Cotton Candy you want. Oh, and the hat will most definitely still be real.
Morena Baccarin as Nico Robin
A mysterious woman in search of the truth behind the hundred-year void in history. Robin is a character who starts off as the black sheep of the crew: she was a former adversary of theirs with an enormous bounty on her head that she received as a child, she invited herself on the crew without being asked, and she didn’t even refer to her fellow crewmates by name, calling them codenames such as Captain, Mr. Swordsman, Miss Navigator, and so on. Long story short, stuff happens and she finally warms up to her new found friends, and even grows to be a maternal figure of the crew. Anyway, I chose Morena Baccarin because SHUT UP! She’s freaking Inara from Firefly. You don’t ask questions. She looks the part, she’s talented as hell, and if you try to tell me you don’t want to see her in that outfit with THAT top, and the power to grow her limbs on any surface with Tom Felton’s character constantly gawking over her, stop lying to yourself.
Ron Perlman as Franky
The soft-hearted cyborg and the crew’s shipwright. I believe I already covered this one in last weeks article, and yes, I still wholeheartedly stand by my choice. Ron Perlman HAS to be Franky. It’s to the point where I can literally hear Ron Perlman’s voice speaking Franky’s lines, and he even sounds perfect. Keep in mind, this is the guy who played Hellboy, so he already has experience playing big bulky tough talking man-childs. Plus he also has experience working with huge prosthetic hands, so Franky’s massive bionic arms will feel right at home for him. This is easily my favorite pick, and it just makes me upset that this movie is never going to happen. And yet, before I lose all motivation, we still got one more crew member.
Robert Guillaume as Brook
A living skeleton with an afro and the ability to play any musical instrument, who also happens to be the final member of the Straw Hat Pirates. Initially, because he is a skeleton with nothing but bones (picture above is Brook before decay), he will obviously be heavily CGIed much like Chopper. Therefore, it would be reasonable that, like Chopper, I would recommend motion capture with voice work from the Funimation Dub. I would recommend that, except that Funimation has failed to get their act together enough to translate that far in the series. Therefore, before people start screaming for Danny Elfman (the singing voice of Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas), I’m going to take a risk with this choice. Robert Guillaume is currently 83 years old and has been a stage performer for the past 50 years. Brook is 88, so the age is very close. While Guillaume has professionalized in plays and musicals the majority of this career, some life long Disney fans might recognize him as the voice of the mandrill Rafiki from The Lion King. While I don’t expect Guillaume to really pull off any of the action or stunts for Brook, I do have faith in his talent as an actor and singer to capture Brook’s gut-wrenchingly funny yet senile personality.
And that’s the end off… oh right! Almost forgot. I still need to come up with someone to play Luffy. Hmmm… well… how about… oh hey, you’re all probably still wondering about the supporting characters. You’d like to know who I’d cast for Shanks, Hawkeye, Buggy, Coby, Princess Vivi, and all them. Well, let’s hoist anchor for now, and next week we will return with some of my choices for the One Piece Supporting Cast.