When it comes to casting, anyone can have an opinion about who they’d like to see playing who – and it’s easy to voice judgment when an actor is cast for a part that you don’t feel suits them. Whether it comes down to something as simple as director’s choice or as complicated as race and nationality, there are many reasons why moviegoers might dispute a casting choice, and sometimes it can lead to a fairly large controversy. In some cases, the actor can prove that they’re right for the role; in others, the controversy ends up being well-founded. In some ways, a misguided casting choice can make or break a movie.
Here, then, are six casting decisions that raised furor at the time, with actors that may (or may not) have shown the naysayers wrong in the end.
Biggest Casting Controversies
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight: There are few more opinionated groups out there than comic book fans, and when it was announced that Heath Ledger – at the time known primarily for playing pretty-boy roles in 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, as well as a monumental turn in Brokeback Mountain – would be stepping into the clown shoes of the villainous Joker, the backlash was swift and unrelenting. Empire Online notes verbatim some of the criticism at the time, including “Ledger hasn’t done anything to suggest he can pull off the psychotic/scary Joker that everyone wants, instead of the silly, campy a** Joker we’ll probably get” and “That’s it, the franchise is over.” Little did anyone know that Ledger would pull off an iconic performance, perhaps even eclipsing the past film Joker, Jack Nicholson. He earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role, albeit (and sadly) posthumously.
Ben Affleck in Batman vs. Superman: Although Henry Cavill has made a passable replacement for the late Christopher Reeve by donning the Superman cape, Ben Affleck has a more recent Batman to be compared to: Christian Bale. It’s true that multiple actors have played the Caped Crusader over the years, yet Bale, the current Batman from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, wasn’t set to reprise the role in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Instead, Ben Affleck was cast, leading to another swell of protests from comic book fans who believed Affleck to be too dull and unfit for the role. Although the film has yet to be released, fans have been seeing a glimmer of hope for “Batfleck,” as he’s been looking very much the part in current preview trailers and screenshots.
Michael B. Jordan in Fantastic Four: We could likely fill up this entire blog post with controversial comic-book movie casting decisions, but this was one truly for the Internet age of outrage. Changing the canon Human Torch character from a blond-haired Caucasian to an African-American, played by Michael B. Jordan, sent many Fantastic Four fans into a quite frankly racist flap. (The fact that in the previous movies, the character of Invisible Woman was played by Latina Jessica Alba – with blonde hair and blue contacts – seemed to have been overlooked.) Although the film itself flopped, Jordan took the unfounded criticism of his character in stride, saying to the NY Daily News that “I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books. But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961.” He also added, “Maybe, if I set an example, Hollywood will start considering more people of color in other prominent roles, and maybe we can reach the people who are stuck in the mindset that ‘it has to be true to the comic book.” Now that’s a real superhero.
Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’ Diary: It’s common to find actors of different nationalities polishing up their foreign accents – just think of how many Brits have played American roles with pitch-perfect American accents. In this case, book heroine Bridget Jones had become something of a cult figure to Brits — an everywoman who worried about her weight, her career, and her love life. So when the books were made into a movie and Renee Zellweger was cast, there was some uproar over having an American play a British literary icon. Fortunately, any fears were soothed when Zellweger committed herself fully to the role, putting on weight and speaking with an impeccable English accent to truly embody the character. Given the fact that two movies have been made with a third on the way, it’s safe to say that Zellweger was clearly meant to be the Bridget Jones.
Tom Cruise in Interview With The Vampire: This was another book-to-film casting choice that raised some eyebrows — but this time, in the case of the book’s author herself, Anne Rice. At the time of casting, Rice vehemently protested Tom Cruise playing her vampire prince, as Den of Geek noted: “Tom Cruise, she argued, was ‘no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G Robinson is Rhett Butler.’ She plunged the knife a little deeper, adding that she thought the casting was ‘so bizarre’ and that ‘it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work.’” Fortunately for Cruise, he embodied the reckless bloodsucker so well that Rice later redacted all of her misgivings, stating that, “From the moment he appeared Tom was Lestat for me.” (Interesting that Lestat would later be recast with Stuart Townsend in the follow-up Queen of the Damned.)
Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs Of A Geisha: Another casting decision tripped up by race issues, there were some eyebrows raised when Zhang Ziyi — a Chinese actor — was cast as the Japanese main character Sayuri. (Other Japanese characters were also played by Chinese actors, including Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li.) Empire Online explains the tricky problem with casting Chinese women to play Japanese ones: “The novel is partly set during World War II, during which the Japanese invaded China and, among other atrocities, conscripted Chinese women as sex workers. Since the word for ‘prostitute’ and ‘geisha’ is rather similar in Chinese, the recruitment of Chinese actors for the leads was controversial.” It may be a matter of history, but also a sensitive issue on both sides.
Hollywood Casting Controversies
Casting controversies are common in Hollywood – sometimes they’re a tempest in a teapot, while other times they threaten to sink a movie before it even opens. Although there’s no clear solution for quelling casting controversies, it goes to show that how the actor handles the performance can sometimes change the minds of even their most staunch opponents.
In your opinion, who are some actors who were initially miscast? Did they redeem themselves in the role? Why or why not?
Author Bio: Cosette St. Pierre is a French Canadian who moved to Hollywood to live in luxury amongst the stars. She is a lifestyle freelance writer and street fashion guru. She is almost always craving hummus and prides herself in a rigorous daily beauty regimen. Cosette is the social media manager for WhoRepresents.com.