Image Credit: Marvel EntertainmentA new film version of Stephen King’s end-of-the-world survival epic The Stand has just been announced, so now’s the time to pray to the movie gods for who we’d like to see in it.
This is a tough one, because the 1994 ABC mini-series — while looking a little cheap (because it was network television) and being a little toothless (because… it was network television) — was exceptionally well cast: Gary Sinise as the scrappy Texan who’s the first to encounter the disease that will wipe out 99 percent of humanity; one-time teen icon Molly Ringwald as the pregnant survivor unsure if her child will do the same; Rob Lowe as the deaf-mute Nick Andros following visions through an empty world; and the mystical badass Anti-Christ known as Randall Flagg, played by Jamey Sheridan (now best known for Law & Order: Criminal Intent and NBC’s Trauma).
The trend in movies is that concept is the star, not the actors. King’s name and his apocalyptic story, which has been a pop-culture touchstone since 1978, will be the biggest draw. So don’t expect the whole cast of Ocean’s 11 in this new version of The Stand. But maybe some of them. Here’s my wish list (although, be warned, some plotline spoilers follow):
Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment
Illustration from Marvel Comics’ graphic novel version of The Stand: From l to r, Harold Lauder, Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Larry Underwood, Trashcan Man, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros.
CHARACTER: Stu Redman — This was the Sinise role in the TV miniseries, and for all intents and purposes it’s the lead role in a very broad ensemble. Stu is one of the good ol’ boys at a Texas gas station when a refugee from a bio-weapons facility crashes into the pumps. The guy’s a mess, and his wife and kid are already liquefying in the car. This is how the novel’s population-killing disease, Captain Trips, gets out into the world, and Stu and his buddies are soon quarantined by military scientists. Only Stu survives — inexplicably, even when they inject him directly with the disease. Soon it’s his captors who are dying off (along with the rest of the planet); he walks free, eventually uniting with handfuls of other stragglers.
Wish-list: Think of Josh Brolin from No Country For Old Men, only a lot more savvy. Brolin can be tender when need be, and a defiant mother(expletive) a split-second later. Most of all, Stu needs brains — not just brawn. Brolin’s the man.
CHARACTERS: Frannie Goldsmith & Harold Lauder — Frannie finds out she’s having the baby of a weak guy she’s, frankly, not all that into. Just when things couldn’t get worse, the world ends. (Isn’t that always the way?) Frannie could give birth to the first new human generation, or lose the child to the disease as soon as it’s born. Unlike most of the other characters in King’s book, not everyone Frannie knows is taken by the disease. Harold, a lonely, dweeby neighbor, a kid her own age, is also resistant to Captain Trips. So you’re a pimply, overweight comic-book-nerd who finds that the only other survivor of the plague is your longtime dream-girl crush. (Isn’t that always the way?)
Wish-list: Ringwald was great casting because who didn’t crush on that girl in the ’80s? The new movie needs someone sweet and vulnerable, but being pregnant isn’t for sissies — especially during Armageddon. Most people don’t know her yet, but she just played two besieged, beautiful, and ballsy women at this year’s Sundance: Newcomer Elizabeth Olsen. As for lonely, bitter Harold, a sympathetic character who eventually goes to the dark side, I nominate Jonah Hill. Yeah, he’s got the body-type, etc., but did you see Cyrus? That dude will stick a knife in your back (or a bomb in your closet). Mark my words.
CHARACTERS: Nick Andros & Tom Cullen — So you can’t hear, can’t speak, and suddenly the superflu takes away everyone in the world, but as you set about wandering the vast emptiness, an old woman named Mother Abagail begins appearing in your dreams — and you can hear her. Nick, played by Lowe in the miniseries, is the novel’s messiah, the man who would be king. Perhaps the most big-hearted of all the survivors, he pairs with Tom, a lost, mentally-disabled man (“M-O-O-N, that spells ‘sidekick'”), when others discard him in those Darwinian times as too much of a burden. Nick seems to be a magnet for the “good” survivors of the plague, leading them to Boulder, Colo., where a new society will begin. (Really, it’s the light side of the coming battle between good and evil.)
Wish-list: Nick needs to be played by an actor audiences love, and he has to be good enough that he can pull it off without saying a word. Here’s where the producers should go big with their casting: Matt Damon. Smiling Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting, not dour Matt from the Bourne films. (UPDATE: Someone in the comments mentioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which made me snap my fingers and curse for not thinking of him first. Yes. Perfect.) As for Tom Cullen, who was played in the mini-series by Bill Fagerbakke (Coach, How I Met Your Mother), the role should go to one of the solid actors out there who actually share the character’s disability. I say rewrite it slightly, make Tom younger, smaller and a girl (the character’s eventual role as a spy in the colony of the wicked relies on being non-threatening). Give it to the awesome Lauren Potter, the actress with Down’s Syndrome who already kills it in a sidekick role as Sue Sylvester’s Cheerios majordomo on Glee.
CHARACTER: Larry Underwood — A struggling musician finally hits the big-time: Women, drugs, a hit song on the radio and — free downloading destroys his industry. Er, I mean, the superflu kills all his fans (and lots of other people), and reduces him to a nobody again faster than you can say, “one-hit-wonder.” Probably the character who is most in need of redemption, it needs to be an actor whose allegiance you’re not sure about. Will he end up with the heroes, trying to rebuild society in Boulder, or nailing people to crosses along the highway to Las Vegas with the demonic horde?
Wish-list: There are enough musicians who want to be actors that the inclination may be to go for one of those: Justin Timberlake, maybe? But nah, way too much of a nice-guy vibe. Make Larry a rapper (with a cooler stage name) and perhaps 50 Cent is your man. Curtis would certainly have the requisite menace. But does he have the performing chops? If he’s still up for the acting game after 8 Mile, I’d go for Eminem. Now there’s a guy we’re still not sure about — Good-guy? Sonofabitch? Maybe both. That’s what this character needs.
CHARACTER: Trashcan Man — What if one of the last living humans was not really all that human? Trashcan Man is to The Stand what the fly-eating maniac Renfield was to Dracula. Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, Watchmen) played the role in the miniseries — a demented vagrant pyromaniac who earned his nickname setting blazes in trash dumpsters, but who now incinerates empty cities and prowls the desert in search of bigger government ka-booms now guarded only by memories.
Wish-list: This is the book’s scenery-chewing role to beat all others — a raving, self-scorched psychopath. I say monsters like this are always better when cast against type. You could put the most jacked-up, snaggle-toothed character actor you can find in this role, but it just reinforces what we already know. Contrast will show the Trashcan Man’s buried humanity. Cast a pretty-boy. (Think Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.) My vote: Robert Pattinson. To back up my thesis, I searched for the most unflattering photo I could find.
CHARACTER: Randall Flagg — He’s not a man; not a god… but close. He’s nothing that lofty. The Rolling Stones would say he’s pleased to meet you, and hopes you guess his name. Flagg is evil personified and yet, like many of the world’s most brutal leaders, he’s also a fantastic charmer. Charisma is the key here. No one wants to be a bad-guy, but if you’re going to convince half of the world’s surviving population that they should give in to their lustful, brutish, and self-absorbed instincts rather than unite for the greater good, you have to make it look good.
Wish-list: King himself once wrote that he thought (a much younger) Robert Duvall would make a great Flagg. In the mini-series, Sheridan gave the character rock-star swagger. But times have changed. Flagg needs to be persuasive, smooth, and iron-clad in his albeit twisted logic. He doesn’t inspire, but preys on his followers fears. The role needs someone who could rally to keep fear alive. Therefore, the decision is obvious: there is no greater Anti-Christ than Stephen Colbert. He’s good-looking in a clean-cut way, comfortable speaking with authority to powerful people, and casually manipulates public opinion on a nightly basis. Also, have you seen that thing he can do with his ear? Tell me that’s not a little hellspawn-ish. It may be difficult drawing Colbert away from his real-life Anti-Christ duties, but it’s worth a try. (Doesn’t that Marvel illustration of Flagg at the top of the post even look like Colbert? Okay, but with long hair and red eyes?)
Of course, any fan of The Stand knows there are a lot of other characters. What are your suggestions for the preceding characters, or any of the other survivors who have so-far gone unmentioned?