Friday, February 14, 2014

Fan-Casting: A Tricky, But Fun, Pass-time

I love to fan-cast. I do it with much of what I read.

I understand this is something a lot of people like to do, and I understand why. It's fun, plus it makes for an easier way to picture the characters when you read about them. But it's also a tricky little pass-time. Allow me to explain why.

First, time marches on, and if there's a book you read twenty years ago that you had fan-cast at the time, then obviously most if not all of your choices won't be valid anymore. However, it's often hard to shake from your mind the idea of casting Actor X in this much-beloved role. Let's say that in your mind, the first time you read, say, Dracula, your mind immediately pictured Alec Guinness playing Prof. Abraham van Helsing. The problem? You first read the book in 1982 and Alec Guinness is DEAD. Despite that, to you, that's what van Helsing looks like and you can't really see him any other way.

Another problem is that casting is a subjective thing. Some people read a book and picture a character very differently than the book describes him or her. I once heard someone say that when they read A Clash of Kings, in their mind Stannis Baratheon looked like John Noble as Denethor in the Lord of the Rings movies. Of course, Stannis looks nothing like that. He's tall, balding, wears a beard and is at least a decade younger (more if you go by the book age of the characters and not the HBO television series). But to this reader, the attitude of Stannis made him think of Denethor, and so that's how he pictured the character. To him, no one but John Noble would have made a good Stannis.

Some people get hung up on whether or not the actor's hair is the same color as the character's, as if wigs and/or hair dye don't exist. The only time I worry about stuff like that is if their skin tone is way too dark to make a convincing blonde, for example

It's not impossible that two people with equal knowledge of and appreciation for the same source material may feel that certain actors are "the only" choice for a given role, and even if that's not the case may still disagree, even vehemently, with each other about what actor is best for what role. You're probably gonna hate a lot of my choices. That said, just know that every choice I make was carefully selected, and there are usually lots of alternates in my mind, as well. 

For that matter, that brings me to another issue, which is that often, film/TV versions often give us a different take on the characters. Using the above example, the television series version of Game of Thrones, which is based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire ages up many of the characters. Adults who were in their 30's in the books are in their 40's or even 50's in the series. Some minor or secondary characters are totally unrecognizable from their book counterparts. This is not uncommon. In fact, the closest I've ever seen a movie version get to its source material was Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings.

This is not how I fan-cast. For the most part, I try to get as close as I can to the characters as described in the books. There might be some exceptions to that rule. Often a character might be impossibly tall, or hugely fat. Camera tricks, visual effects and fat suits can take care of such things, meaning that I care far more that the actor, facially, voice-wise and acting-ability wise be able to portray the character than I am worried about whether or not they're tall/short/fat enough. After all, in a world where we can make full-sized humans into hobbits and dwarves or an average-height actor like Rodrigo Santoro into a towering colossus, we no longer have to be so hung-up on stuff like that. The only exception might be a character like Little John in a Robin Hood movie, as he's not super-human, just really big.

But then there's the other trap, one that far, far too many fan-casters have fallen into, and that is, casting wrong.

When I pick an actor for a part, I take the following into account:

1) How closely the actor resembles (or could resemble with make-up) the character.
2) Whether the actor is physically anything like the character as described, and how much that matters to the portrayal.
3) The age of the actor vs. the age of the character, and how much that matters to the portrayal.
4) The ability of the actor to portray the character in terms of acting ability, range, ability to affect an accent not their own, etc.
5) The sort of roles the actor takes, and whether their current clout might prevent them from taking said role.
6) Whether the actor in question is still alive.

Quite a few of the fan-casters I've seen more or less stop with number one.

I don't know how many times I've seen it. Maybe they're casting a movie version of a book with a ton of characters, so they decide to cast them all. However, they just pick actors they're familiar with and try and match, to some degree, the look of the actor with the look of the character. Sometimes they go full moron and cast an actor famous for a certain role in a role that is similar. For example, I honestly don't know how many times I've seen someone look at a role of a serious, badass strong silent type with a mysterious past and think "Yeah, Viggo Mortensen! He played a great Aragorn, so he should make a great Roland Deschaine!" Of course, there are several problems there. For one, Mortensen usually doesn't play that sort of character. He was cast against-type, and took the role mainly because his daughter wanted him to. Also, just because a character shares a few aspects of Aragorn's character doesn't mean the same actor can, or should, play both.

Probably the most off-the-wall awful casting suggestion I ever saw was when someone was trying to fill all the roles in A Song of Ice and Fire, casting the books as movies (which, of course, would have ruined them, but that's another story). Among her choices was Tom Cruise as...Renly Baratheon.

Now, I don't know how many of you have read the books, or watched Game of Thrones, but Renly is in his early twenties and not a very large role. If they had decided to do Game of Thrones as a movie, he would likely have had about one or two scenes per movie, maximum. Tom Cruise, meanwhile, is over 50 (and would have been well into his forties when I first saw the suggestion) and is probably still one of the biggest movie stars in the world even today. Even if he had the acting range to play Renly, and he might, not only would he have been wrong for the part, but he would have been prohibitively expensive, even if he consented to taking what would have amounted to a walk-on role.

That's not how I cast movies, or TV shows. I want the sort of cast list that looks at least somewhat plausible, assuming what I have read ever does get turned into a movie. I study movies and TV shows that I watch. If an actor who has a small part seems to have some presence or seems to fit a part well, I look up that person's name and keep them in mind should I need them for a part.

With movies I'm a little more star-heavy, at least sometimes. I try and choose actors you'd at least recognize, even if they're character actors or actors who normally do TV. I try very hard not to stick huge actors in supporting or minor roles. You will not see on this blog a suggestion such as Leonardo DiCaprio playing, say, one of the Merry Men or Fortinbras in Hamlet or something.

Also, much of what I read is in serial format. Often the books are huge, or contain intricate plots, and I feel they would be ruined by being squeezed into a two to three hour running time. When that happens, I will probably cast it as a television series, rather than a movie. When I cast a TV series, I also keep in mind whether actors are available, since it makes little sense to me to cast an actor in my TV series who will be tied up with another series for conceivably years to come. Also, in some cases I may note which network (cable mostly, but not always) it would be best suited on. I also may note who will be a regular cast member and who will just recur.

One last thing, I am an absolute giant among nerds, so most of what I read falls well into the Sci-fi/Fantasy category. I also read some horror, and every now and then something that doesn't fall into my preferred genre, but mostly it will be speculative fiction.

Next Post: A Good Dune movie!

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