Friday, March 7, 2014

Mistborn: The Final Empire

The Mistborn series is a trilogy of fantasy novels from the increasingly renowned author Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson combines the ability to tell a fascinating story with characters that are flawed, easy to relate to, and yet still quite heroic, inventive, unique settings, and what truly sets him apart; his often complex, entirely original, and fully fleshed out magic systems.

This series takes place in a semi-post-Apocalyptic world covered in ash from a series of huge, but presently mostly dormant, volcanoes that cause frequent ash-falls. During the day, is lit by a red sun and at night, it is deluged by an omnipresent mist that seems at least semi-sentient, unable or unwilling to enter homes of the living and seemingly attracted to the presence of those who use Allomancy (the most prominently featured magic system), swirling around them whenever they venture out into it.

This crapsack world is ruled over completely by a mysterious, apparently immortal Lord Ruler, who could give Stalin, Pol Pot or Idi Amin a run for their money in the fascism department. The people are divided into two groups; the Nobility, and the Skaa, a working class that the Nobility literally believe are little more than semi-intelligent animals.

Nobility regularly kill skaa, and since skaa are not afforded basic human rights, they don't get in trouble for it. They also rape skaa women, and are supposed to murder them afterward so that they don't create any "half-breeds".

Here's the twist: among the Nobility there are some called "Mistborn", who are capable of practicing an arcane art known as "Allomancy", which is the practice of ingesting, then "burning" (which is to say, using) certain metals and their alloys, which give them various abilities. Iron allows you to push against other metals (any metal). Steel allows you to push against the same. Tin enhances your senses. Pewter enhances your physical body (strength, speed, endurance, balance, etc.). And so on and so forth. Basically, a full Mistborn, who can burn all these metals, is one major badass. Less badass but still powerful are "Mistings", who can burn one metal, but not all.

Did I say these people exist only among the nobility. Hah, well. They're supposed to, but considering how hard it is to make sure you never create a child with a skaa, the ability has spread.

Revolts have happened before, but they're increasingly uncommon, as the present generation of skaa literally believe that the Lord Ruler is God, or at least a god, and therefore not only is removing him impossible, but as a god, ruling is simply his right. But there's one man who wants to change all that, and truly end skaa oppression and the totality of the Lord Ruler's regime.

That's how our story begins, and I'm gonna stop there because I'm getting too bogged down in story. I will say, however, that I think these would make a good movie trilogy rather than television. The plot, while intricate, is quickly-moving and could easily fill a three-hour-ish running time (each book is about as long as one volume of The Lord of the Rings) and whoever directs this is gonna have to have a sharp eye for interesting visuals, like the Wachowskis, Zack Snyder or Tarsem Singh. It's important to get the right look of the setting, the red light, oppressive ashfalls, the mists, and above all, the fight scenes, which will, if done right, out-Matrix The Matrix.

Unlike several other books on this list, a film version of this book has already been optioned, and I sincerely hope this project moves forward. It's still in development hell right now. Maybe this cast list can get some studio bosses talking.

I initially considered waiting until I'd read all the books in this series and then casting the series as a whole, but it's becoming clear as I near the end of the second book that each movie deserves its own post. And, of course, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

Now, on to the casting!

Our hero is a young skaa thief named Vin. Vin has grown up on the streets of the capital, Luthadel, moving among the thieving crews with the help of her brother, Reen. Now Reen has disappeared, and Vin has caught the eye of another thieving crew...a special one with a daring plan. What is special about Vin, and what will she learn about herself?

Vin is young, waif-like and riddled with self-doubt, even as she does what she must to survive, and only gradually begins morphing into a confident badass. Whoever plays her should have the ability to look both totally vulnerable and also hardened. I understand that Sanderson himself wanted Ellen Page in the role, but Page is a bit old for it at this point, and while she wouldn't suck, I want Chloe Grace Moretz. I mean, this kid has done it all. She knows how to do a fight scene (Kick-Ass). She can play someone who goes from wallflower to threatening, with arcane powers (Carrie), she's the right age, but always seems to be in roles typically given to older people. She can alter her voice (important as Vin begins to infiltrate Noble society). Personally, I can't see anyone else in the role at this point. Also, it doesn't matter if they don't start filming for a few years because she's very young-looking despite being Vin's age now and will still look the proper age in a few years. (Wow, this is the second time in four posts I've thought of Ellen Page and Chloe Grace Moretz for the same role).
Chloe Grace Moretz
Next is our protagonist, Kelsier. Like Vin, Kelsier is skaa-raised, but is actually a bastard child of Nobility, so he is a full Mistborn who becomes her Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kelsier's a complicated character. The leader of a thieving crew made up almost entirely of Mistings, Kelsier is a charismatic man, a natural leader, and is always quick with a smile and a quip, even though inside he's boiling with rage against the nobility, for a host of reasons. He's gained legendary status of late because he's the first, and so far only, person to survive the brutal internment camp known as the Pits of Hathsin, and he's spent the last couple of years honing his Allomantic abilities. His newest job, which he took for idealistic reasons rather than money, is to literally overthrow the Lord Ruler and give Luthadel to the Skaa. But he's after more than that; he wants the Lord Ruler dead.

Kelsier is described as being 38 years old with dark blonde hair and an outwardly flippant personality. However, he's also very dangerous, and many on his crew wonder if he hasn't started believing his own legend and started thinking that he can kill the Lord Ruler just because he's who he is. I think Jude Law could do this pretty well, especially because we know he can be serious (lots of his roles) but also jokey, smiley and flippant (AI: Artificial Intelligence, The Talented Mr. Ripley). He's older than 38, but looks somewhere around that age.
Jude Law
I'm going to list our primary antagonist next, despite the fact that the role is not all that large. The Lord Ruler is described as looking young and handsome, tall with a slim but muscular frame. His face has a stone, unreadable expression and he speaks with a voice that sounds bored and tired. His hair is long and dark, but that sort of thing can be accomplished with wigs. I always imagined him as looking kind of elfin, and somehow the image of Alex Pettyfer kept springing to mind. He's blandly good-looking and capable of stoic evil. Also, I'm gonna be honest here and state that I really don't like the title "Lord Ruler". It's Maybe that was Sanderson's goal, but it always felt to me like he just couldn't think of a good title for him, so he substituted "Lord Ruler" until he could think of a better name, but then forgot to come up with one. I would have called him the "Lord Ascendant" or something like that. But that's just me.
Alex Pettyfer
Now onto Kelsier's crew. Most of them are at least half-skaa, but they're city-bred skaa who are mostly tradesmen or administrators. They know oppression, as well, though the plantation skaa are the ones most beaten down.

To start with, there's Kelsier's right-hand-man, Dockson, who is the only non-Allomancer within the central crew. Dockson is good with numbers, and acquiring things, and it's his administrative skill that gets Kelsier the materials and preparations he needs. Dockson himself is something of a straight man to Kelsier, but he's more than that, as well. He, like Kelsier, believes there's no good in the Nobility, and he has his own dark history to live with. He'd described as being shorter and somewhat older than Kelsier, stocky, with dark hair and a beard. This isn't a "normal" choice, but I pictured Paul Giamatti in this role. Something about how Dockson is a bit of a sad-sack may have brought me to this casting.
Paul Giamatti
Next, there's Hammond, known as Ham, a tall, muscular "Thug", who can burn pewter to enhance his already considerable fighting skills. But Ham is no "dumb muscle". Instead, he's an armchair philosopher who enjoys posing ethical questions and pondering then out loud, much to the annoyance of his crewmate, Breeze. To me, there is no one who can play this role but Ray Stevenson.
Ray Stevenson
Next is Breeze himself. A Soother, Breeze's Misting talent is that he can calm emotions of others. He's a bit of a smarmy, kinda jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold type who seems to put on airs. He's portly, and could be considered comic relief, at least the more deadpan snarker type. I kept picturing him as Eddie Izzard.
Eddie Izzard
The next roles are a bit different. They're not members, per se, of the thieving crew, but they're pretty important roles. It's just that in this film, we won't really see that yet. The first is Elend Venture, who is the son of the most important Nobleman in Luthadel, barring the Lord Ruler. Elend, however, isn't like most Nobles. He's a bookish, honest young man who is genuinely disgusted by most of his Noble peers and the way they oppress the skaa. He dreams of creating a better society, but isn't sure how to do it. Then he meets Vin, and it all begins to fall into place. This type of role would be a great "star-maker" for a young, little-known actor, as he segues into the male lead role, and I've chosen Jamie Blackley.
Jamie Blackley
The other role I mentioned is that of Sazed, a Terris steward who is genuinely a hard role to describe. Terrismen can often practice a powerful magical investiture known as Feruchemy, and in order to breed this ability out, and make them easier to control, the Lord Ruler has them castrated at birth (and their women kept in breeding programs). This makes them docile, but also very tall and with arms that seem too long. Sazed, like his people, is very tall, quite docile, but with a rebellious streak that makes him want to actually affect change, thus making him work against the Lord Ruler's empire. He's also a Feruchemist. His earlobes are stretched and lined with earrings, which are actually used with his abilities. He mainly collects information on religions, which is part of why he'd love to see the Lord Ruler toppled, and is very unassuming and warm, friendly, etc. And also very wise. While Kelsier is Vin's trainer in Allomancy, Sazed is in many ways her trainer in life. I had a hard time with the casting. For some reason I picture his skin as being darker, though the book makes it clear that Terrismen are not African in skin tone, and, much like Elend, I think this role should go to someone who's not very well known yet. I chose Diogo Morgado, who played Jesus in The Bible miniseries and the theatrical version, Son of God. This is appropriate, as Sazed is a rather Christ-like character. Camera angles, forced perspective and other visual tricks can help him achieve Sazed's great height.
Diogo Morgado
A secondary villain who grows into a major one later, Elend's father is Lord Straff Venture, and boy, if he isn't a boo-hiss villain at near Joffrey Baratheon-levels. A villain role like this can be well-done in the hands of a good actor, but a bad one can make him uninteresting or even goofy. We need someone who can behave like a complete asshole who expects the world to just do what he demands, and have fun doing it. I say that man is Christopher Eccleston.
Christopher Eccleston
Kelsier's brother Marsh is taller than he, hard-faced (his nickname is Iron Eyes) and devoted to helping end skaa oppression. He and Kelsier don't really get along because he doesn't think Kelsier takes anything seriously and cares more about himself than his people. He is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his goal, including infiltrating the Lord Ruler's Steel Ministry. For reasons I'm not going to go to great lengths to describe here, I will simply say that I've chosen Christopher Heyerdahl to play the role.
Christopher Heyerdahl
Then there's the "leader" of the skaa rebellion himself, a laborer named Yeden. Yeden dreams of leading the first successful skaa rebellion, and hires Kelsier to do it, despite not liking Kelsier's reputation. Yeden isn't a large role, nor does he have much personality besides always being worried, but he's an important role, and needs to be cast. I chose Kim Coates, an underrated character actor who disappears into his roles.
Kim Coates
"Clubs" Cladent, another, though reluctant, member of Kelsier's crew, is an elderly, grumpy "Smoker", whose job it is to mask any Allomancy going on in his vicinity. He also provides their hide-out. His role is pretty small, as well, as Clubs is a man of few words who basically just sits in their meetings and scowls. Despite that, he does have an important role and it will be necessary to cast a good actor, who can say a lot without saying much at all. I chose Mark Margolis.
Mark Margolis
Clubs also has a nephew nicknamed Spook, a "Tineye" who can use tin to enhance his senses. He speaks in a very odd manner, thanks to growing up on the streets of the Eastern Dominance and learning their "street slang". Spook's role is fairly small in the first book, but grows, and he's going to be a fun character who might even be the break-out from this film. I didn't want to cast a well-known actor in this role, either, though whoever gets cast will need to be able to play him memorably. I ultimately decided on Game of Thrones actor Joe Dempsie, though this role is open for a ton of interpretation.
Joe Dempsie
In order to secure funds and a face among the Nobility, Kelsier has a mysterious Nobleman working for him who seems to have no problem with Kelsier's extreme anti-Nobility stance. Lord Teven Renoux is another small role that will be important to cast, and I chose Jonathan Hyde, who is good at playing stiff, upper-crust gentlemen.
Jonathan Hyde
We've reached the end of the major, must-cast-these-roles type characters, but there's many, many minor roles that I think are important to include. So, all of these guys are one-scene-wonders or background characters, but still got casting decisions from me. Here we go.

The first one I'm gonna talk about is a character who's not even a character in the books but a memory of one. Vin's older brother, Reen, looked out for her and kept her safe, but he also abused her and kept her always doubting, never trusting. Throughout the book, in Vin's insecure moments, Reen's voice echoes in her head. I think it could be visually demonstrated by having Reen appear to her as an apparition (well, physical manifestation of her inner thoughts) and taunt her. And for some reason, I see him being played by Bronson Webb.
Bronson Webb
Speaking of characters from Vin's life on the street, there's always her initial thieving crew boss, Camon, the sort of "Fagan" character that Kelsier rescues her from. He's described as being heavyset and always angry, so Jamie Foreman came easily to mind.
Jamie Foreman
Lady Shan Elariel is a Noblewoman who tries to manipulate Vin and is trying to find out what Elend is really up to. She's a purely evil character, and one I look forward to seeing on screen due to her Mistborn fight with Vin. I chose Caitlin Stasey, even though I don't know much about her, because she looks pretty close to how Shan is described.
Caitlin Stasey
One role that's very minor in terms of screen time, but I still feel needs to be cast, is that of Lord Prelan Tevidian. He's the chief Obligator (essentially Attorney General) in the Lord Ruler's empire, a frightening, powerful man with a secret even he doesn't know in full. He needs someone who can look stonily intimidating, and I chose Downton Abbey's Brendan Coyle
Brendan Coyle
The only other young Nobleman who sees a need for change in the empire is Jastes Lekal, one of Elend's closest friends. Unlike Elend, he isn't an idealist and while he doesn't see the skaa as tools to be used and thrown away, he's not exactly a nice guy. He strikes me as a bit of an idiot, a sniveling twerp who's been handed more power than he could ever handle, and this comes out even more strongly in the sequel. I chose Leo Bill to play him.
Leo Bill
Then there's Kliss, a Noblewoman of low social standing who seems to be little more than a fluttery gossip. She's on the large side and her fashion sense is horrid. She annoys Vin, but Vin finds her useful to spread rumors. I couldn't picture her as anyone else but Saturday Night Live's Aidy Bryant. I think it could be a fun cameo, comic relief with a point.
Aidy Bryant
Demoux is a young skaa recruited into the rebellion's army, who becomes a true believer. This is another role that starts off rather small and grows in the sequels. I don't know why, but I think Eugene Simon could communicate Demoux's aching earnestness.
Eugene Simon
Finally, I'm going to cast two of the Lord Ruler's Steel Inquisitors. The Inquisitors are frightening characters, powerful Allomancers with strong resistance to the powers of others. They have tattooed faces and spikes driven through their eyes and out the backs of their heads, which, obviously, means that there is something incredibly unnatural about them, and the fights Vin and Kelsier have with them are pretty intense. I've cast Ian Mercer, whom you might recall as the Quartermaster in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie as Bendal, who has the most fight scenes, and Michael Nardone as Kar, the Inquisitor with the most dialogue.
Michael Nardone
Ian Mercer

On a final note, I should point out that many of the actors I chose are American, or Canadian. Basically, I made sure I chose actors who could at least affect a "British" accent, despite the fact that unlike a lot of fantasy, this isn't really a quintessentially British world. I kinda picture it that the higher up you are in the Nobility, the more "posh" your accent sounds, while most skaa speak with a generic sounding accent. I'm fairly certain that most of my choices are capable of that.

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