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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Cast in a Good Light

Picking just the right actor can make or break a franchise.



Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. I seem to recall a twinge of dread when I heard the news seven years or so ago that he would be the new Spider-Man'but now I can’t imagine anyone else in the part. It wasn’t that I had pre-existing ideas about Spider-Man; I had pre-existing ideas about Maguire. As big a fan as I’ve always been of his, I couldn’t see him and his adorable nerdiness as, you know, superhero material.

Multiple viewings of Sam Raimi’s first two Peter Parker adventures have endeared Maguire’s shy superguy to me, and I’ll watch ’em again to prepare my geeky heart for Spider-Man 3, opening next week. But my change of heart about Maguire made me stop to consider how deeply one of the most basic aspects of a filmed adaptation of comics or novels'casting'can impact our enjoyment of a movie.

Take the Harry Potter movie series. Casting the first film'finding just the right kids to portray characters readers instantly fell in love with and would insist could not deviate one iota from the written word'must have been a nightmare for the creative team. But while early word was that the producers assumed they’d have to recast the kids somewhere down the line, fans now will have none of it. The suspense we suffered through this spring'when Rupert Grint and Emma Watson seemed to be waffling on returning for the end of the series as Ron and Hermione, respectively'was torture. Relax: Everyone’s now committed to the remaining films.

DVD has done this to us. It’s one thing to watch a film in a theater a dozen times but quite another to bring it into your home. We’re cozy with Radcliffe as Harry now not just because we’ve watched him grow from a boy into a young man but because we’ve watched him do that on our TVs; why, we might as well be watching home videos of our own kids. We develop much more intimate relationships with characters'and the actors who play them'when we meet them in our pajamas curled up on our sofas than we do in a public multiplex.

Maybe that’s why Eric Bana as the alter-ego of The Hulk failed to connect with audiences in 2003. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bana, a wonderfully dedicated performer, and not that there wasn’t something about the art-house vibe of Ang Lee’s film that turned off action-movie nerds. I simply can’t help but wonder whether my Gen-X peers and I, who grew up watching the very different Bill Bixby on TV wander the byroads of America helping people by Hulking out, didn’t find the film a bit off'even if the series itself was only half-remembered. For the record, I love Lee’s film and heartily recommend it, but Bana and Bixby couldn’t be more different'which you can confirm for yourself again, since the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV series is now available on DVD.

Perhaps the best evidence for the argument that characters we meet on TV make us feel warmer, fuzzier and more attached to them is the fact that the best and most successful example of casting and re-casting is a television show that’s made a point of dealing with the reality that actors need to move on. The British series Doctor Who has built into its foundations since almost its 1963 beginning an escape hatch'a way to switch out the lead actor and continue merrily along its way. David Tennant, the current Doctor, is the 10th actor to play the part'the 11th, if you count the two 1960s British spinoff movies, though most fans don’t'and the show has never been better. Don’t believe me? Episodes from throughout the show’s run are available'you guessed it'on DVD.