Monday, June 25, 2012

Star Trek and the Problem with Fan Casting

It can be fun to come up with alternate casts for movies and television series--Becca and I do it for fun all the time--but it's not something I like to do with a ton of people or on the blog or anything. I think it can be easy to fall into the trap of casting someone similar to the original actor rather than making an interesting, out-of-left-field choice that seems more interesting for the actual character.

Case in point is Jill Pantozzi's recent list on the Mary Sue about who she'd cast in a Star Trek: The Next Generation reboot. The list got a bit of attention last week, and it's an interesting list to start some discussion with, but I also--and I don't mean this to be a criticism of a talented online writer and a great site--felt it was pretty unimaginative.

Starting where she starts and going on.

1. Tom Hiddleston as Data
This is pretty much what sparked her list. This photoshopped image was going around on Tumblr last week, and it's a really well-made image, but it's also one of thousands of images of Tom Hiddleston flying around. It's amazing how being on a social network can alter your perception of the world: for a guy I've only seen in two movies, I am profoundly tired of Tom Hiddleston. Nothing against the guy, and he was excellent as Loki, but I'm putting him over in the same category with the Benedict Cumberbatches and the Matt Smiths as guys who I think are good in that one role I've seen them in but really need to see more of before I start fawning over them.

Anyway, Tom Hiddleston would be an okay Data, I suppose, though the character has become something of a cliche and would need to be played differently to be interesting, I think. For some reason, the first actor I thought of was James Kyson Lee, who played Ando on Heroes. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because Ando always seemed so sincere.

2. Ed Gathegi as Geordi LaForge
Geordi's another character I always thought was potentially interesting but who just became kind of toothless and boring. I only know Ed Gathegi from X-Men: First Class, which I guess he was okay in. He plays the Brother Who Dies First to Show You How Deadly the Situation Really Is, so it's not like he has much screen time. I'd like to see Geordi played a little... not rowdier, necessarily, but more like a guy just out of college who has something to prove but who's still a little immature. I think that would humanize the guy a little more, because Geordi too often came across as cool and remote. So a guy a little younger than LeVar Burton was when he came onto the show.

Here's a question: can you get away with casting a white actor in this role? Does it matter? Should it matter? I really don't know, myself. I only ask because I thought Brando Eaton from the heinous Secret Life of the American Teenager might be interesting, if only because I still hope he's going to be in something good. (I saw him on a Lifetime movie over the weekend, and he's probably capable of better.) Maybe in this version, Data and Geordi will finally take the next step, if you catch my meaning.

3. Richard Madden as Commander Riker
I guess because he has a beard? I don't know, a lot of her choices are influenced by what she's watching on current TV series, which is another way the list is not very interesting. Richard Madden is doing a nice job on Game of Thrones, but I'm not really convinced he'd be a very interesting or dynamic Riker. My choice in the role is easily Idris Elba. There's your sex appeal and your capable commander all in one. That guy is the total package. (Frankly, Elba would be a great Captain Kirk, too.)

4. Michelle Dockery as Deanna Troi
I've never seen Downton Abbey, so maybe she's great, but I still feel like this choice is basically "Dark-haired British actress as dark-haired British actress." Troi is a character I'm fairly ambivalent about--probably because the only really interesting thing the writers could apparently think of for her was to get mentally raped over and over again. Ick.

I'd pick Lizzy Caplan, because I think she's interesting and there are layers to her (for a while she was the sole interesting aspect of True Blood). She's not really age-appropriate for Elba, but they'd be pretty hot together.

5. Ewan McGregor as Miles O'Brien
I assume with someone like McGregor in the role it would be more than two and a half seasons of standing around in the transporter room waiting for someone to show up? I see O'Brien as such a non-entity until about season 5, honestly, but I guess in a reboot there'd be more room to do something with him.

I don't know... Paul Bettany, maybe? Give him a break from doing science fiction movies that are so bad even Nicolas Cage doesn't show up in them? The guy's a capable actor when he has good material. Did you ever see The Reckoning? Magnificent flick.

6. Idris Elba as Worf
Large black man for large black man, I guess. You want to take sexy Idris Elba and cover him with all of that makeup? I say thee nay! (And anyway, Elba is my Riker.)

I'd like to see a younger take on Worf, because it makes some of the frustration he's always expressing a little more palatable. I love it when they play up Klingon tradition and ritual, and Worf's exploration into his Klingon culture would play better if it was also his entry into manhood. I like that idea; the exploration and anger seem more natural. Of course, the guy I pick, Robbie Jones, is actually 34, so what do I know? He played Lewis on Hellcats and I think he'd be really good here. I'd love to see Jones more.

7. Bryce Dallas Howard as Dr. Crusher
Red-haired woman for red-haired woman, I suppose. Plus, Howard seems really young for it, though she also casts a younger boy for Wesley in the next entry. Though, honestly, I would pick a red-haired woman for the role, too, if only because I thought maybe Diane Lane would be good. I just love Diane Lane, is all. Wait, is Diane Lane a redhead? Why do I think of her as one? The Outsiders, probably.

8. Chandler Riggs as Wesley Crusher
I can't really say; apparently he's on The Walking Dead, which I don't watch, so I don't have an opinion on the casting. Obviously it's not who I'd pick, but only because I'm not familiar with him. I'd maybe pick Kodi Smit-McPhee just because I liked him in Let Me In. He's 15, it's a good age to start.

9. Julia Stiles as Tasha Yar
Julia Stiles always seems to me like Hollywood's fifth choice for anything. She's okay, but that's about it. I'm throwing in Aly Michalka because she's tough and she looks like she could really fuck someone up. And you knew I'd sneak a Disney person in there somewhere, right? Also, I want my Tasha Yar/Worf romance. Which is a Hellcats reunion, which is fine, because did you ever watch Aly Michalka and Robbie Jones together on that show? Two very, very sexy people.

10. Wanda Sykes as Guinan
This is basically like casting Whoopi Goldberg again, only with someone much less interesting. (Hey, Whoopi was talented once!) And why cast another comedienne, anyway? It's not like the role calls for comedy. I'm going to come out of nowhere and cast Shohreh Agdhashloo just because I always find her voice as soothing as a purring cat. And she's a hell of an actress, if there's a call for that this go-round.

11. Billy Boyd as Lt. Barclay
Interesting choice to cast this character onto the show, as well, but is thinning hair a prerequisite? It just seems like too much of the criteria here is that the new actor resemble the original actor in some superficial way. Ummm... Martin Starr. Let's bring the awkward for real.

12. John Barrowman as Q
I have absolutely no problem with this and would not change anything.

13. Christopher Eccleston as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Actually, I do like this choice. See, it's not always unimaginative to cast a similar actor to the original--certainly I did it with Aly Michalka and a number of others--but too often it can be. And I'm not, by the way, defending my choices as being any more interesting than any of the choices she made. I don't really think any of my choices are that interesting, although I do think Idris Elba should do more science fiction. I can't get that out of my head now.

Hmm... I started off meaning to talk about the idea of fan casting, and just ended up fan casting. Oh, well. I'm a fan.

Two last choices: Gabrielle Union as Ensign Ro and Wil Wheaton in a bit of stunt-casting as the Traveler.

Anyway, that's something I'd probably watch. If it didn't suck.


Jez In Dallas said...

Lizzy Caplan was on Big Love? Did you mean True Blood? I watched the entire run of BL and don't remember her on there at all, but I do remember her run on True Blood and it was quite good.

SamuraiFrog said...

Oops, I did mean True Blood. Thanks!

Kelly Sedinger said...

The problem with Data is that people age, and Data doesn't. So you have the problem of Brent Spiner looking markedly different ten years into playing the guy, and makeup can't fix that entirely. TO me, the solution is to make Data a digital character and have someone voice him.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Idris Elba as Worf
Large black man for large black man, I guess. You want to take sexy Idris Elba and cover him with all of that makeup?"

Why not? They took sexy Michael Dorn and hid him under all that make up. It was what drove me nuts about Worf: they took this then-gorgeous man and hid him under a repulsive make up, and they also hid LeVar Burton's BEST FEATURE, his incredibly beautiful eyes!

Roger Owen Green said...

Race issuch a touchy subject that reducing the number of blacks in ashow would be problematic, though switching the racial characteristics of the cast (as long as the number of minorities remained the same, or increased) would be OK.

daveawayfromhome said...

Why would you reboot TNG, that seems like a dumb idea, really. Why not make Star Trek: The Next Next Generation? Set it another few decades into the future. Maybe here androids have become more common, maybe our relationship with the Klingons has deteriorated, but things have settled down with the Romulans (perhaps because, following the lead of the film reboot) Romulus was evacuated or saved or something). We've had three generations so far, there's no purpose in repeating one of them when you can make a new one, with all new problems.

SamuraiFrog said...

Kelly: When we were doing the rewatch last year, I kept joking that Data must have some kind of puffiness protocol written into his subroutines.

Tallulah: Agreed on LeVar Burton's eyes. I was 11 when TNG came on TV, so I never really had an experience of Dorn without the Worf makeup. Now it's always a little jarring for me to see him out of it. The things you become used to as a kid.

Roger: Thanks for the input on that. I genuinely had no idea on that.

Dave: Totally agreed on that one. I would much rather drop in on the Trek universe another 60 or so years in the future. Especially after some of the technological advances of Voyager; after the finale I was thinking how interesting it would be to see the Federation using something like those Borg tubes.