When news broke on Friday that Jesse Eisenberg had been cast as the villainous Lex Luthor in the new ‘Batman/Superman ‘ film, two thoughts immediately popped into my mind: 1) ”seriously”, and 2) ”here we go again”. The first reaction was more a reflection of my own vision of the character. Although Eisenberg has proven himself as a versatile actor, I had always assumed that the production, based on the universe established in the previous film, would have gone with a slighter older version of the character. The latter reaction spoke more to the outcry and vitriol that would no doubt be consuming the internet for the rest of the day.
Ever since DC announced that Batman would be appearing in the Man of Steel sequel, discussion of the film has moved from euphoria to a mixture of puzzlement and anger. The latter of which started when Ben Affleck was cast in the role of Batman. The flames of hatred that many online were brandishing towards director Zach Snyder only intensified when Gal Gadot was hired for the role of Wonder Woman. The only thing that seemed to quell the rage were the rampant rumours that Bryan Cranston, fresh of his brilliant run on the series Breaking Bad, was in talks for the role of Luthor.
Can you imagine Cranston’s Heisenberg exacting his wrath on Metropolis? You could practically feel the collective climax of fans of both Superman and Breaking Bad at the mere thought.
Of course we now know that this was simply not meant to be. Probably for the better, as I could easily see people criticizing Cranston for repeating his Heisenberg schtick if the film turned out to be a disaster. It would not be the first time film lovers chastised a film for, of all things, ultimately catering to the demands they wanted in the first place. But I digress. Jesse Eisenberg has already shown in The Social Network that he can play a villainous egghead. By all accounts playing Luthor is not really that far of a stretch. Plus the Superman/Lex Luthor dynamics has always been a battle of brains versus brawn.
So why the public outcry proclaiming the film “will suck”?
Personally I prefer to take the wait and see approach. I have always found it perplexing when people declare a film’s worth simply based on the casting news released. Remember when The Human Stain was considered a Best Picture contender because it had Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris attached? Or how about the star-studded casts that were supposedly going to make prestigious films like Bobby and All the King’s Men soar? How did they all turn out?
The reverse has been true as well. There have been numerous examples of actors who turned in outstanding performances despite receiving negative casting buzz prior to filming. The discrepancy that commonly occurs between speculation based on casting and the final version of the film itself only helps to emphasize how little most of us know about the actual casting process. You can find plenty of articles sharing their opinions about Jeremy Irons being cast as Alfred, but how many of them list the actual casting director for the film?
In many ways the casting directors are the unheralded heroes, or villains depending on your view, who work behind the scenes with little notice by film lovers. Unlike cinematographers who have a distinct visual flare, or screenwriters who provide a jaunty verbal rhythm, it is the actors they cast, and not the casting directors themselves, who receive all the praise. However, the casting directors are just as important.
There are many directors who simply would not be as successful as they are today without their longtime casting directors. Last year Woody Allen wrote a piece in The Hollywood Reporter exclaiming why he felt the Academy Awards needed a category for casting directors. He noted that his casting collaborator, Juliet Taylor, was instrumental in bringing in several key actors and important figures who provided memorable performances in his films.
Can you imagine The Purple Rose of Cairo without Jeff Daniels? Or how about Hannah and Her Sisters without Diane Wiest?
While the director ultimately has the final say on who will play what roles; it is the casting director that must sit through hours upon hours of auditions and interviews to find the right people who can best bring both the script and the director’s vision to life. So why are we not focusing more on them? If we are going to invest so much time bickering over casting news for a film that we are all going to end up seeing regardless of the actual plot, then should we not invest the same amount of energy learning about the casting directors behind the scenes? Would we be as outraged about an upcoming film if we knew the casting director frequently worked with Scorsese rather than say Uwe Boll? Probably not.
As an avid comic book reader, I can identify with those who hold certain characters and story arcs close to their heart. However, I think it is a bit silly to get all up and arms over casting news for films we know so little about. This is especially true since so many of us have little insight into the scripts and casting process that ultimately help the films to take shape.