The Most Befuddling Casting Choices in Film History
January 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
There are some roles that certain actors were born for: Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in The Godfather, Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, Woody Allen as Woody Allen in every Woody Allen movie ever made. But every decade or so, there comes a movie with a casting choice so brain-liquifyingly bizarre that it makes you wonder whether the casting director is even actually from this planet. Here are a few of those.
#5. Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov
Best known for his stirring performance in 12 Angry Men and his buck-toothed, prepubescent-voiced representation in cartoons, one thing Henry Fonda is NOT known for is being physically large. Yet this is exactly the sort of man he plays in the 1956 film War and Peace. Several times in Tolstoy’s novel, Pierre is likened to a bear, and he is always described as large and heavyset. Of course, he’s also constantly described as awkward and uncomfortable, which I can totally see in Fonda, but the physical characteristics are exactly opposite of the descriptions in the original novel. You may call this nitpicking, and you’re probably right, but I still find it an irritating choice.
(For a much better casting choice and, indeed, a much better adaptation, go for Voyna i Mir , starring Sergei Bondarchuck. However, you’ll have to call in sick; it’s seven hours long.)
#4. Orson Welles as Othello
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that Orson Welles and Shakespeare sort of go hand in hand. He’s got the booming voice and intimidating demeanor that characterize so many of the Bard’s most famous soliloquizing superheroes. But there’s one role that he just can’t play.
Oh. I guess I should say shouldn’t.
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most affecting tragedies, a powerful tale of jealousy and backstabbing (and face-smothering). It’s also posed a problem for many white actors over the years because, well, Othello is black. He’s written that way. But Welles, in his typically “I’m-the-master-artist-and-no-one-can-question-me” fashion, decided that his unmistakable whiteness was not an obstacle, and he went on to play the part with just a little help from the offensive makeup department.
(For an interesting and racially-accurate take on Othello, check out the jazzy revamp All Night Long .)
#3. Marlon Brando as Sakini
Marlon Brando, along with legend Anthony Quinn, was one of the few ethnically ambiguous actors of the twentieth century. He played Emiliano Zapata, Mark Antony, and Napoleon Bonaparte within a two-year span. Heck, he was even Superman’s dad (for the record, I’ve never seen an extraterrestrial patriarch played more convincingly)! But, as Orson Welles has shown, there are just some things ya can’t fake.
In the charming comedy The Teahouse of the August Moon, Brando plays an interpreter and native villager, and it’s a difficult role to analyze. On the one hand, it’s evident that Brando (a notorious Method actor) has put a lot of work into accurately emulating the speech patterns and mannerisms of the average Japanese male. On the other hand, it’s a white guy trying to be taken seriously (well, semi-seriously; it is a comedy) as a Japanese guy, which–no matter how hard you try–just doesn’t quite work. While it’s an admirable effort, to the casual viewer it’s just a few “Fa-ra-ra’s” away from exactly the slanty-eyed stereotype that I’m sure dear old Marlon was trying to avoid.
On the third hand (still not sure where it came from), when the film was first released, there were reports that moviegoers demanded a refund because they were promised Marlon Brando but he never appeared onscreen. So, I suppose there’s something to be said for his achievement after all.
#2. John Wayne as Genghis Khan
Wait a second. What?
It’s true. The year was 1956, and director Dick Powell was faced with a dilemma: he wanted to make a big-budget, Howard Hughes-produced epic about Mongol chief Temujin’s rise to power, but he wanted a well-known actor to play the part. His final decision? Mr. Mongol himself, John Wayne.
I can’t even imagine what the thought process was on this one. It looks almost too wild for a Hollywood Halloween costume party. Words can’t describe it. Don’t look at the picture too long; it will make your head hurt.
Moral of the story: when an actor is notorious for only being able to play himself, and he is not Mongolian, do not cast him as a Mongolian.
#1. Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader
When one considers the film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), many questions arise. For instance, why does this film exist? How does anyone who was involved with it still have a career? Does anyone who was involved with it still have a career? Why does–HOLY CRAP! IS THAT ROBERT DE NIRO?
Yes. Yes it is.
But now, to continue the previous line of questioning. Why can’t De Niro, one of the most talented actors in film history, do a simple Russian accent? All of his henchmen can do it–even Jason Alexander! Instead, he opts for the Gestapo clothes and the staccato German, but you can occasionally see him slipping into his trademark Bronx accent. The lip curl is the first sign.
Why he ever signed onto this–and not only starred in it, but produced it as well!–will remain a mystery for centuries to come.