No, this isn’t me slamming race-swapping this time (though I’m still against it regardless of who the “victim” is), nor am I coming down against hiring famous actors. I have my favorites, too. However, Studio execs don’t seem to realize they’re not in the marketing business but in the storytelling business. This isn’t some new phenomenon, mind you. This goes as far back as celebrity actors, even in the old black and white movie days. There is a difference I feel, though. Back then they wanted a big name actor or actress but wanted him or her for a certain role, even if they had to create it. When it comes to licensed works these days they’ll alter the character for the sake of the actor rather than find the right actor to play the part.
That isn’t a commentary on the actor or actress because I’m speaking in generalities, not anyone specific. (I only chose the above image from my image library because it matches up.) We’ve also heard of roles being created to get a certain performer into the movie because they did so well in the auditions but didn’t fit any existing role. I get the feeling the big name being on the right talk show has superseded the need of getting the right actor for the part, and this is where the marketers are failing the story.\
Let’s use Superman as an example. In the old serials Kirk Ayan was never even credited in order to further the idea to the kids (because adults think kids are stupid) that this was in fact Superman dealing with a lady criminal or a new scheme by Lex Luthor, depending on the serial. When Richard Donner went to make his Superman movie he looked for unknown or little known actors so that on the screen you didn’t see the actor, you saw the characters. The studio forced Marlon Brando on him, who according to Donner wanted to play Jor-El as a ham sandwich. Brando loved to, no pun intended, thrown his weight around and ask for stupid things, like how he wanted to play Dr. Moreau. I see Johnny Depp following in his footsteps in this regard. The execs will placate him because they want that big name, despite Jor-El being on screen for maybe a half hour and some of that was a hologram recording.
You can get a good name actor to play a role and pull it off. Henry Cavill might have made a good Superman, but they put him in Zack Snyder’s Superman-In-Name-Only instead. I think Brandon Routh might have worked if he wasn’t in a strange love letter to the Donner film rather than an original take. This is of course easier in animation since nobody cares who the voice actor is; they just see Superman. Other actors are perfect for certain roles. Donald Pleasance wasn’t in any Superman story I’m aware of but he could play the villain that you believe has everyone fooled. The only reason we expected him to turn out to be the bad guy, eventually if not at the start, is because he’s Donald Pleasance. That’s the type of character he most often played.
I certainly have nothing against that. I may not be into “Will Ferrell movies” but I’ve seen him in movies not tied around the character type he’s famous for. On the other hand I’m one of those people guilty of going to a “Jackie Chan movie” to see Jackie play the same character type because it fits his martial arts stunt style and he’s darn good at it. Yet I don’t think I could see Jackie Chan playing Shang-Chi, though even following how his character has been updated I’m not sure it’s the same character in the upcoming movie as I see in the comics. Maybe someone who knows the character better could tell you for sure. (We miss you, Brian Snell.) Then again, this could just be another soon-to-be-failed attempt by Disney to score big in the Chinese box office. That’s a topic for another time. My point is just like the writer and director, you need the best actor or actress for the job. Not every movie should be tailored to a specific performer.
For an original property (for as long as Hollywood still makes those without disguising them as a licensed property) we of course can’t tell the difference. Even then directors still fight to get certain actors on roles, with the execs and marketers trying to get the biggest name possible while the director (when they aren’t just looking to work with “X”) trying to get the best actor to fill that role. You couldn’t get a relative unknown to play Superman like Christopher Reeves was when he first got the role. They have to be famous. Based on requests I always see on Twitter (on the rare occasion I check out that increasing dumpster fire) I’m surprised we haven’t seen some buddy road picture or something with Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch (with a role for Nathan Fillion for the geek crowd) because I see those names slapped on practically every movie that comes out.
That’s why I’m not surprise the internet is claiming Elba is voicing Knuckles in the second Sonic The Hedgehog movie, with no discussion if he’s the right fit for the character, or any animated movie where they slap a celebrity in there to do the voice while ignoring the voice actors who do this for a living. Even the Paw Patrol movie seems to be ignoring the kids and other actors who play the role every day on television in favor of the celebrity voices, even though it doesn’t matter because, again, you don’t actually see them. They’re only there so they can do something for their kids while the celebs got so upset that animated movies were being nominated for Oscars that the Academy Awards shoved them into their own category so it wouldn’t happen again. That’s also another article, but the studios don’t even care if the actor can voice act versus regular acting. If they do terrible ADR for regular movies or never even did that, this isn’t a good sign.
Directors need to be free to find the right actor for the job, especially in the case of licensed properties, where the very fan base that made the work popular enough to receive an adaptation or modern retelling know these characters and expect to see them brought to life. (Of course this also requires directors who care more about the story than checkboxes or “I always wanted to work with…” when they don’t fit the role, licensed or not.) It’s disappointing that fame has become more important that the story. It’s no surprise actors don’t connect to these tales the same way we do, or that their egos get so inflated by “yes men” and adoring fans. The story always comes first, and unless I’m watching a vehicle for a particular performer I don’t want to see the actor or actress, I only want to see the people in the story who for a short time invited me to live in their world and lives.