For months, Javier Bardem has been in talks for the role of Roland the Gunslinger in the big-screen version of The Dark Tower, and sources close to the production say he is just weeks away from finalizing the deal. But with that key component in place for Ron Howard’s adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy epic, which will span three feature films and two TV miniseries, it’s time to take a closer look at who should play some of the other key roles in Roland’s ka-tet (King’s word for the team joined by fate for the quest).
The series is made up of seven books — so far — with an eighth novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, planned for publication next year, and set between his previous fourth and fifth books (Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla). The thing is already written, so smart money is that screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who won the Oscar for Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, is already factoring it into the adaptation. There are also scores of characters in the series, some threading through other King works, so we can’t touch on them all… though, maybe Anthony Hopkins can be persuaded to reprise his role as psychic “breaker” Ted Brautigan from Hearts in Atlantis?
Apart from such colorful side characters, there is the trio that makes up the core team of heroes, Roland’s ka-tet, established in the second novel, The Drawing of the Three. Roland draws them into his Mid-World from various points on the space-time continuum, so who should Howard pull in for his multi-platform epic adaptation? Some of my suggestions below:
— Eddie Dean, the well-meaning but troubled junkie, whom an oracle tells Roland has been “possessed by a demon called Heroin,” in a clever perspective twist on our world. Once he is pulled into Mid-World, Dean becomes a loyal but wisecracking sidekick, offering his own perspective twist on these new surroundings, and helping cutting through some of the mystical mumbo-jumbo with the signature directness of a street kid from Brooklyn.
Casting: A sense of humor is a must, as well as a look that, let’s say, has a certain “lived in” texture. Eddie is a character with rough edges. Patton Oswalt has the comedic chops, and he shows an impressive, powerful, and darkly dramatic side in Big Fan and the upcoming Young Adult, but no one would accuse him of having a “heroin chic” figure. But part of Eddie’s appeal is that he’s not the guy anyone would have expected to take on a heroic mantle.
If you want to go the more traditional leading man route, however, perhaps Justified‘s Timothy Olyphant (whom some would have liked for Roland) would be the right choice. Before commenters crucify me for deigning to suggest someone as far outside the box as Oswalt, I could also see someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s the right age, can do comedy as well as drama, and can adopt the lean, rangy appearance of a true scumbag while still maintaining an uncanny charm. (See Hesher, opening next month. Seriously — go see it.)
— Susannah, a black woman from 1964 whose legs are missing below the knee after a subway accident. She also has split personality disorder after suffering head trauma as a child. (Both incidents were not accidents, but an attempt to kill her.) Once again, she’s nobody’s idea of a familiar female hero, but her handicaps make her all the more badass. It’s one thing to travel from Mad Men-era New York to a dusty, decimated alternate dimension that has “moved on” toward the apocalypse, but try doing that with your mind in fragments and the inability to walk.
Casting: King himself has said, “I always kind of see Angela Bassett in my mind’s eye,” when writing about Susannah, which is as good a casting suggestion as any, except that at 52, she’s perhaps too far out of the age range at this point. Avatar‘s Zoe Saldana has proven herself to be more than up to the task dramatically, and has the athleticism necessary to pull of a character who struggles so much physically to survive. She’s also well-versed in the kind of special-effects work necessary to create not just this character, but the whole Dark Tower world in general.
Sanaa Lathan also has the strong screen presence to pull off the role. She battled otherworldly beasts in Alien vs. Predator (okay, admittedly not the most dramatically sophisticated film) but she’s also in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming thriller Contagion and earned a Tony nomination for the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun.
One outside the box name to consider: Octavia Spencer, soon to break big in The Help. She’s not a lean, mean, slow-mutant killing machine like some of these other action-oriented actresses, but she’s got attitude and a half and an undeniable charm. In The Help, she’s Minny Jackson, a defiant, outspoken housemaid who is somewhat ahead of her own time. I’m not sure I can picture her sitting on a guy’s shoulders doing this, but we’re just brainstorming, people.
—Jake, the kid. This is a tough one. I’m not sure how you keep this child a child for the full span of years necessary to finish this project (cast Andy Milonakis?). But given that Jake exists in different dimensions and different lives (“there are other worlds than these,” he reassures Roland as one such life is about to end) maybe it’s possible to switch actors. The face changes, but the soul of Jake remains the same. Or maybe they’ll be shot fast enough that the aging of the character matches the aging of the actor. In any case, the father-son relationship that forms between the boy and Roland is a key component of the books, making this one of the most important casting decisions.
Casting: It’s got to be an unknown, right? Ten years ago, maybe The Sixth Sense‘s Haley Joel Osment would be the shoo-in for this role, but I’m not sure there is a prominent young actor today in his very early teens who might be considered a natural for a part like this. Josh Hutcherson from The Kids Are All Right, now playing Peeta in The Hunger Games, is too old, and obviously occupied anyway. If I were Ron Howard, I’d be asking J.J. Abrams if I could check out an early cut of Super 8, because the lead kid in that, Joel Courtney, has a lot of promise.
All right. Have at it. What are your thoughts and choices? Feel free to go deeper into the character bench, and get creative!
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