Sean Bean never gets what he wants. In Fellowship of the Ring, instead of the ring he dies of a terminal case of heroic redemption. In Ronin he doesn’t get whatever’s in the briefcase, and in Troy, well, you don’t think Odysseus wanted to spend ten years lost, right?
Now, Sean Bean is once again set to Not Get What He Wants as Eddard Stark in A Game of Thones, consequently giving fans exactly what they want, in the form of another spectacularly well-cast part in what is shaping up to be one of the Good Adaptations.
He joins Peter Dinklage, who is playing the Imp, Tyrion Lannister. If there is a problem with this casting, it’s that Dinklage is too good looking, but even that is inconsequential; not only are there marvelous things that can be done with prosthetics these days, they may not even choose to go that route. Tyrion is a supremely sympathetic character, a common fan favourite, and not making him hard to look at may go towards helping achieve that same effect in film that the books achieve by giving us his POV. (It’s sad that this will work, but that’s the way of it; just look at True Blood, which includes a subset of fans more than happy to overlook some of the more barbaric actions Eric takes just because Alexander Skarsgard happens to play him.)
Obviously, then, the exact look of a character is not critical to their casting, although sometimes you’d think it was; look at the uproar over the colour of Harry Potter’s eyes, for instance, especially given that this exact colour proved to have less bearing or importance than certain theorists were convinced of. Clearly, of greater importance is the actor’s ability to capture the essence of the character.
Which is my clever way of avoiding it looking like I’m saying you can cast, say, a whole bunch of white Americans to portray different ethnicities. I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan. No matter how great their acting chops, they just can’t do it, and prosthetics or CGI aren’t going to help because, well, obviously. Not even as blind and colossal an ego as Shyamalan’s is going to try to pass off the equivalent of CGI blackface as acceptable.
…right? God, I hope I didn’t just jinx the world, there.
On a slightly less horrible scale, there’s the Keanu Reeves issue. First he was cast as a comic book character who is a blond, British ex-punk, and now he’s playing Spike Spiegel, who he could be said to somewhat resemble. If you squint. And have vision problems.
Of course, the second is, in my mind, the greater transgression: the Constantine adaptation was so different from the source to be an entirely different story, simply containing certain elements from the first. But they’re trying to claim the latter will be faithful to the source material and that, sirs, is where I demand Lee Pace or bust. If we’re talking about accuracy to the source material, then it is worth pointing out that Lee Pace is absurdly tall, a brilliantly physical actor (watch his mannerisms in Pushing Daisies for a quick example of this. Actually, just watch Pushing Daisies, full stop), who can do both goofy and charming and badass, simultaneously if necessary, and this last he can do because he is a good actor.
Keanu Reeves can say ‘Whoa’ well. I don’t care how poofy you can make his hair, this does not qualify him for the part.
Because that’s the thing about an adaptation; it doesn’t have to be an exact copy of the original to work. In fact, if they are, it can feel somewhat hollow, as with Watchmen (which I enjoyed, but mostly because of the pleasure in seeing a beloved comic book on a giant screen; as its own entity, it likely does not stand up nearly so well). Bringing an exact copy of a movie or book to life is futile, because if we wanted an exact copy we would go and buy it in the original format.
So it is with characters; no actor will ever be able to be exactly what the character was in the source, especially with a book-to-movie adaptation, such as A Game of Thrones. The actor brings their own interpretation to the part; the reader brings their own interpretation to the book. The two may intersect, but they’re never going to be identical. It would be impossible, given that each reader is going to have their own, personal view of the character. No one can be all of those without pulling some Professor X level psychic mojo, and last time I checked Patrick Stewart can’t actually read minds.
(Possibly, this is just what he wants me to think.)
This is why, for instance, I’m not especially fussed that they’re aging Arya and Sansa up, for one example (reports have them at two years older than in the books). They’re still placed at about the right ages for what happens; certain events that happen with Sansa are certainly not going to be any less uncomfortable for those few years difference; and the upside is that they can probably get better acting performances out of whoever they cast, if they can cast older.
The contrast to this is the casting of Tamsin Greig to play Sacharissa Cripslock in the adaptation of Going Postal. It’s not that her hair is the wrong colour, it’s that she’s about fifteen years too old and too–for a lack of a better word–twitchy an actress. She’d be a great citizen of Ankh-Morpork, just not this citizen.
And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to for me, as regards casting adaptations: all I want is for Hollywood to cast someone of the right ethnicity who can play the role they’re given. You wouldn’t think it was so very hard, would you?
So you have a choice: you can be Sean Bean, doomed never to get what you want, chasing a shiny trinket that is ultimately cursed; an adaptation that is the original. Or you can let your local jeweller make you up a ring that won’t bring the Nazgul down upon you, which in this metaphor is a well-crafted movie or television series with differences that serve to make it both distinct and a good product in itself, not just as a shadow of something else.