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Ten Deep 8.29.13: Top Ten Risky Castings That Paid Off
Posted by Mike Gorman on 08.29.2013

"Top Ten Questionable Movie Casting Successes"

Last week is was announced that Ben Affleck would be taking on the role of Batman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel set to document the first meeting between these two DC Comics icons, and unless you were living under a rock you saw the internet explode with reactions. For the most part these reactions were overwhelmingly negative, basically damning the film before filming has even begun. In the days that followed the memes flew fast and furiously ripping apart Affleck's chances of success in the role purporting that many die hard fans intend to skip the film all together now (a fact we know to be completely untrue, but hyperbole loves company!).

In the midst of the flurry I was surprised to see one very relevant point made about a piece of Batman related casting that caused a similar ruckus just a few years ago. More on the details of that point when we get into this week's list but let's just say audiences have been questioning casting decisions for decades and often they are proven wrong. This week's Ten Deep looks at some of the moments I feel popular opinion turned out to be incorrect in the end. You will see this is a pretty varied list and that I am by no means calling all of the film's successful, just the performances of these individuals. Let's get things started with the very gentleman at the center of this past week's internet storm.

10. Ben Affleck in The Town

Yes I am going to get things rolling with Affleck himself. In this instance the skepticism centered mainly on whether or not he could pull off a serious dramatic role while serving as the film's director. The end result was an Oscar nominated film that for me verified Affleck's directing skills and ability to make some fantastic choices behind the camera and in front of it. It is the Affleck we see at work in The Town that I am sure we will see in his turn as the Bat, not the Affleck we received in films like Gigli or Jersey Girl. He is proof that an actor can grow and I am willing to give him a chance as Bruce Wayne.

9. Tom Cruise in Interview with The Vampire

To say fan reaction to Tom Cruise landing the role of Lestat in Interview with The Vampire was negative would be an understatement. This was perhaps fueled by the source material's author Anne Rice describing the choice in an interview with Movieline as "so bizarre, it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work." In the novel Lestat is described often as tall and most definitely fair haired, a vast contrast to the shorter, dark haired Cruise. I too was skeptical of this one but when I saw the film I discovered that Cruise had brought the arrogant Lestat to life in all of his grandiose stature. Some fans still remained unconvinced but Rice herself released the following statement after viewing his work, "From the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me." I am not sure Cruise needed any other approval for his work.

8. Ryan Reynolds in Buried

I will say straight off that Buried is a flawed film that has some great moments and others that were a bit more awkward, but here we are not looking at the film as a whole but Reynolds' performance. The controversy in his casting was whether or not the man known more for less serious roles, like Van Wilder, could provide the presence and gravitas needed to stand as the only character on the screen for a majority of the film. The depth and range that Reynolds ended up displaying here was definitely surprising and I think he was as successful as he could have possibly been in the confines of this vehicle.

7. Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises

Casting in so called "comic book" movies always seems to be the most contentious as the properties have rabid fan bases that are used to the images they have seen of the characters many times for decades. When it was announced that Hathaway would be donning the cat suit in the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy many fans were incredulous. Hathaway was seen as too timid and not overtly sexual enough to fill the knee high leather boots of Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. I admit to being a bit cautious about this one myself even when her first moments in the film began. That scene however was genius as it presented the Hathaway we all knew and were worried we see in the movie, and then flipped her persona on its head revealing the weaker, timid woman in the maid's uniform to be the "mask" the master thief was wearing in that moment. I and many audiences were hooked from that moment on. She ended up making the role her own, humanizing a character often reduced to sexual innuendos and cat jokes, while maintaining her inner strength the diehard Catwoman fans expected.

6. Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition

We all know by now that Tom Hanks can play funny and dramatic very well. He can craft roles that tug at your heart strings in one film while making you belly laugh in another. It was not these abilities that were questioned when his casting in Road to Perdition. Instead we wondered if the loveable Hanks could pull off a central role in a film about Depression-era mob violence and gangs. Hanks' role was one of a hitman and father, and while it was expected he could handle the emotional nature of the fatherly role, it was the darker, grittier murderous moments that seemed questionable. Hanks proved that he could handle it all with ease in the end, gifting us a performance filled with a balance between steely reserve and deep anguish.

5. Keanu Reeves in Constantine

If I did not light a fire under my readers when I praised Tom Cruise's performance as Lestat, I am certain that my selection of Keanu Reeves' turn as John Constantine as an unexpectedly successful film moment will do so. I included him here with some slight reservation as yes, the character was created as and has always been British in the comic book source material, so casting an American actor to portray him, as an American was an interesting choice to say the least. Yet, what I found upon multiple viewings of the film is that Reeves did a successful job at translating Constantine's attitude and persona to the big screen. Constantine is a cantankerous manipulator, who only sometimes lets others through his outer shell, and I think this is what Reeves delivered in a very challenging situation.

4. Robin Williams in One Hour Photo

Like Hanks above, it was the dark nature of the role Robin Williams was cast in for One Hour Photo that to questions of whether or not he could pull it off. For me, the biggest deterrent to Williams' success seemed to be the sheer size of his personality and how it affects his performances. Traditionally it is as if his presence fills a room when he comes on screen and at times it can even beat you over the head like a hammer. What we saw in One Hour Photo was something completely different. Williams made himself small and exhibited an emotional reserve that matched the unease of the film's situation. Who knew that Robin Williams could so easily give you the creeps while maintaining a smile?

3. Jim Carrey in Kick Ass 2

We do not even need to get into Carrey's campaign against this film and its violence in order to examine his performance. Again, like Williams, Carrey traditionally has one level he performs at and it is "over the top." And while he has from time to time been able to tone it down to reach some emotional heights, what I think many people would agree on is that when Jim Carrey is on screen we are getting a "Jim Carrey performance." There are certain hallmarks to his work that always seem to shine through regardless of his efforts otherwise. This is why I was so pleasantly surprised by his work as Colonel Stars & Stripes. In Kick Ass 2, Carrey was almost unrecognizable and I don't just mean his prosthetic make-up. He stepped into the role and delivered a well-developed performance that reflected the seasoned history of the character's background. Carrey may not have had a lot of screen time in the film but he certainly proved his worth as one of the film's stars.

2. Chris Evans in Captain America & The Avengers

When it was announced that Chris Evans would be putting on the stars and stripes to play Captain America, Marvel's flagship character, in solo and team-up films there was skepticism a plenty amongst both comic book and film fans. Evans had already starred as a major Marvel hero, the Human Torch, in Fox's Fantastic Four films and his ability to not only take on a second hero role never mind do so successfully was certainly in question. Evans was definitely not taken seriously as an actor at this point in his career and many were not enamored with his light hearted performance as the Torch. Marvel Studios certainly took a major risk in casting him as the Captain knowing his performance and its reception would have lasting effects on their rapidly expanding film franchise. Several doubters were still vocal after the premiere of Captain America: The First Avenger but in that film I saw that Evans was perfect for the role with his ability to handle Cap's "golly gee" naiveté and battlefield worn strength. By the time the Avengers were sitting around eating shawarma at the close of their first outing, I think it was safe to say Evans had successfully claimed the role as his own.

And lastly…

1. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

And here we have the number one response refuting the certainty that Ben Affleck will tank as the Dark Knight. The words, "Remember when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker though?" have been echoing all of the net the past week whenever the Affleck casting is discussed. To me, the point was extremely valid for when Ledger's casting was announced fans exploded. Some citing his previous films as examples of how he could never carry the role and yet others standing firm behind Jack Nicolson possessing the definitive performance of the character. Ledger was truly a risky variable that no one except the powers behind the scenes could fathom delivering what turned out to be a tour de force masterful performance that for many people redefined their vision of the Joker. Ledger's performance was so powerful and head turning that The Dark Knight ended up feeling much for like a Joker film guest starring the Batman, instead of the other way around. Knowing the sad circumstances that befell Ledger soon after this film, one can quite securely state that his performance as the Joker will truly remain an incredible legacy.

So will Affleck deliver a Ledger-worthy performance, or will he derail DC entertainment's efforts to position themselves opposite Marvel in the comic book film arena? I personally have a lot of faith in this casting and think Affleck will bring a new energy to the role. This will not be Bale's Batman, or Keaton's, but I think it will be one we will all approve of in the end… of course, I also though George Clooney had a real chance to make the role his own too… so there's that to consider!

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