Thursday, January 1, 2015

Opinion — Casting One’s Characters More Fun than Casting Stones

A talk-radio blowhard accidentally opened up an interesting topic.  During all of Sony-Kim Jong Un silliness a secret was revealed. British actor Idris Elba was (is) under consideration to be the next actor to play James Bond in the incredibly popular franchise.  Not quite yet a household name, Elba has a growing list of successful small (“The Wire” and “Luther”) and big-screen (American Gangster and Thor) roles. He is at least as popular as Daniel Craig was when he was tapped for the sacred spot.

Anytime the role has been up for grabs, there has been debate. It’s all part of the 007 spectacle.  And years after one actor or another has landed the role, the debate raged anyway.  There are the Sean Connery purists.  He was good.  He was also the first and the one who established expectations. The fans who accepted Connery, eventually accepted Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and now Craig.  Each performed as Bond multiple times and has earned Bond producers a serious fortune.  But what about Bond’s creator?  Which one was the truest to 007 creator Ian Fleming’s vision?  And because Craig is bowing out after one more epic adventure, who should be anointed?

Idris Elba As Bond?
Any choice would have been challenged.  We have our favorite Bonds.  And if you are basing it on the books, who knows how you have imagined the icon — a hero of your own imagination.  In this case one of the objections is that Elba is Black.

One person argued that if Fleming had intended Bond to be Black he would have said so, alluded to it in one of his early 007 novels. I agree with that. Given that Bond was loosely and flatteringly based on the author himself, I suspect the Bond in Fleming’s eye was white.  In fact, if Fleming had his way, David Niven would have been James Bond. I would have liked that as well. I loved watching David Niven. He might not have been as gymnastic as the others, but he would have projected the most sophistication. As it is we’ve adjusted to the tough, serious Bond of Connery as well as the tongue-in-cheek Moore and the dour Craig.  So far, after a few moments of adjustment, I’ve liked them all, including Brosnan who seemed a blend of Connery and Moore.

More to the point, though, since when did we abide by the original creator’s suggestion in any movie based on a book or series?

Lucy Liu Is Watson
If any fictional, crime-fighting literary character could out-icon Bond, it would be Sherlock Holmes. What say ye about Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern take on the world’s most famous detective? From a pipe-smoking, bookish private eye, we have a wonderfully outlandish and flamboyant narcissus in current day London.  Or, we might look at his incarnation in the American TV version, where a less stylish but more annoying narcissus solves murders in New York with help of his best friend Watson who has become for this 21st Century series a lovely Chinese woman. Jack Reacher, the newest best-selling superhero in books, is described as being 6’5”, size being a factor of no little importance to his character’s tough-guy profile. Reacher is being played on screen by the diminutive Tom Cruise.  Reacher’s creator, Lee Child, has said publicly that he likes Cruise in the role. So?

So, Elba is a fine British actor, great looking, and he has proven his screen presence.  How can he not be a prime candidate?

But there is an interesting question here.  How faithful should (can) films be to the books on which they were based?  I imagine a number of writers have thought about who they would cast to play the characters in their novels.  Of those whose books (and heroes and heroine) went to Hollywood, how many authors were satisfied with the choice of actors and actresses?  Robert B. Parker was said to have been extremely unhappy with Robert Ulrich’s TV series portrayal of popular Boston private eye Spenser. I’ve done some fantasy casting for my Shanahan series.  For years I imagined Paul Newman in the role of the elderly semi-retired private eye. He did make a great film about an older P.I. (Twilight). Just not mine.  Clint Eastwood has also come to mind. Shanahan in the forthcoming Killing Frost is a somewhat disabled 72.  (Eastwood is 86). I’ve also imagined Ed Harris, who is only 64. That’s not a huge stretch for a talented actor and gifted make-up artist.  Throw Morgan Freeman into the mix and I would be hard pressed to choose which one I’d pick for the Shanahan role

P.S. Rumors are afoot suggesting Cumberbatch is in the Bond sweepstakes as well.


Fran Johns said...

I don't know about Bond characters, but my image of Deets Shanahan is so fixed (even if I've now out-aged him) it would be hard to adjust to ANYONE on the screen. Eastwood maybe. Can't wait for Killing Frost! Happy New Year!

Ronald Tierney said...

Thanks Fran, for all your support. No need for us to worry. But it's fun to think about. I'd love to see a movie shot in Indianapolis.