Casting Stephen King’s The Stand
I originally said I would be taking a week off, but I got inspired, so here goes nothin’…
A few months ago, the news broke that CBS and Warner Bros. will be teaming up to produce a new, feature film version of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece, The Stand (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/heat-vision/stephen-kings-stand-heading-big-94805).
The Stand, despite its menacing length, is a book I’ve read all the way through multiple times. It’s a deceptively simple premise: a massive pandemic of “super flu” (called “Captain Tripps” within the book) sweeps through the nation, leaving two distinct bands of survivors: the noble optimists (led by the aging but compelling Mother Abigail) and the sinister opportunists (led by the diabolical but seductive Randall Flagg).
King’s novel is the example I refer to when people say that he is a mere “pulp” writer. The Stand is a sneaky, brilliant psychological examination of our twisted culture and our often misguided beliefs. It’s proof positive of the old adage that when the world comes to an end, it isn’t the monsters or the disease that will end up being the greatest enemy, but humanity itself.
The novel has been adapted in a series of graphic novels, as well as a well-received, but tonally and structurally muted 1994 television mini-series. The television adaptation was surprisingly good considering both the limitations of the time and outlet (plus what was excised from the novel itself). Still, a big-budget series of features with an all-star cast and an equally amazing budget gets my movie lover’s heart a-thumping.
The characters in The Stand are what make it so intensely enjoyable. Without the stalwart strength of a Stu Redman, or the abject terror of a Randall Flagg, it wouldn’t pack nearly the same punch.
I’m hoping this excitement and joy I’m feeling doesn’t go the way of the proposed Dune re-make that fell through last year. I don’t think I can take that kind of heartbreak again.
Here’s my humbly proposed cast list for the feature film…
Click on the actor’s portrait for the link to his/her IMDB page.
This aging Nebraskan has seen mankind’s growth over the last century, and as it enters its most difficult battle yet, she is called on to assemble the remnants of humanity in Boulder, Colorado to face the ultimate evil head on.
1st choice: Loretta Divine
Best known for her work in Waiting to Exhale and Grey’s Anatomy, Divine has a deceptively wispy voice that often belies the strength behind her characters. She has a way of projecting intensity that would make her a good choice for the role.
2nd choice: Lynn Whitfield
Whitfield startlingly believable portrayal of icon Josephine Baker in The Josephine Baker story (from her days as a jazz baby to her aging final days as a lounge singer) prove she’s got the chops to transform into a sharp Abigail.
Note: Stephen King’s pick is Jake Gyllenhaall, but I think Stu needs to be a little more experienced and rough around the edges. This is the kind of man who can be a girl’s dream, but also just one of the guys. If this is going to be a big budget feature, you can count on Stu and Fran being big name stars.
Stu Redman is the glue that bands the good guys together; a Texan with immunity to the super flu, he runs afoul of what’s left of the government early in the novel, only to become the natural leader of the survivors who end up in Boulder ready to stand against the evil that is Randall Flagg. Redman is the novel’s moral center, a leader thrust into power almost against his will. His journey from laid-back Texan to leader of the band of survivors is the soul of the book.
1st choice (big budget version): Matt Damon
With Ben Affleck rumored to be in the director’s chair for the movie, this is a logical, big budget option. Damon is getting better as he ages; his range has been shown most recently in True Grit and Contagion. He can run the gamut of emotions while still looking like a believable human being who might walk the Earth with mortals. He can be an everyman, but also show surprising knowledge of the layers within a character(of which Stu has many).
2nd choice: Jeremy Renner
Renner is good-looking but not intimidating; his role in The Hurt Locker is a prime example of how he would be a perfect fit as the tough but sentimental Stu. He can be both leading man and character actor, and Stu himself has elements of both.
Fran, a pregnant young college student, is wise beyond her years. It is her loyalty and strength that guide and motivate Stu (her eventual love interest) and lend a voice to Mother Abigail’s cause.
1st choice: Carey Mulligan
Mulligan’s turns as the naive but lovable heroine in An Education and the sweet but tough mother in Drive make her an easy choice to play the likable and caring Fran, who becomes Stu’s soul mate and Harold’s obsession. She excels at making her characters realistic yet endearing, which is the heart of Fran’s charm.
2nd choice (big budget option): Emma Stone
A more box office friendly choice would be Stone, who is riding high on the success of such movies as Easy A and The Help. Stone is a decent dramatic actress who has a steely side to most of her characters that would be a good asset as Fran.
Randall Flagg (aka “The Dark Man” or “The Walkin’ Dude”):
Flagg is the embodiment of evil in all its forms, be they seductive or terrifying. He brings his band of survivors to Las Vegas, where they attempt to build an empire and crush Abigail’s remnants in Boulder.
1st choice: Viggo Mortensen
Have you seen Eastern Promises or A History of Violence? These pretty much make my case for me. If not, let me elaborate. Mortensen is gorgeous but also makes a great heavy. He’s believably frightening. Put him in all denim and a mullet and I wouldn’t want to meet him alone in a dark alley.
2nd choice: Timothy Olyphant
Olyphant can make a strong and conflicted leading man, but he also has a smile that reeks of danger and what’s left unsaid. I almost prefer him as a bad guy, since he’s the very definition of devilish charm.
Runners Up: Michael Shannon, Gary Oldman, Daniel Day Lewis
Larry, a drug-addicted rock star with one hit under his belt (the addictive “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?”) seems an unlikely choice at first to help the cause of the defiantly good, but his conflicted journey is one of the most interesting things about the book. He becomes involved with the deranged but compelling Nadine Cross before finally finding happiness and a family with Lucy Swann.
1st choice: Michael Fassbender
Fassbender scored a Golden Globe nomination in Shame as a man addicted to the consequences of his own sexual prowess. His ability to play handsome with an undertone of vulnerability is second-to-none. He can play Larry’s blotto swagger in the beginning, then build upon his rise to redemption in the last act.
2nd choice: Joesph Gordon-Levitt
Levitt is a thoughtful actor who always seems sympathetic. As he ages he’s making the right career choices, heading towards leading man status while still maintaining an art house sensibility.
Harold is a creepy, pimple-infested teenager who is hopelessly obsessed with Fran. He has a brilliant mind but a tortured psyche, leading him to fall prey to the whims of Randall Flagg and his plan to infiltrate Boulder.
1st choice: Paul Dano
He’s almost too old to play a teen, but if you age up it could work. Dano’s creepy and effective performance as Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood is all it takes to convince me he’s perfect for the role (if maybe a dead ringer for Corin Nemic in the mini-series).
2nd choice: Jamie Bell
The kid from Billy Elliot has morphed into an interesting character actor. In 2011’s Jane Eyre, his uptight and obsessive performance as St. John Rivers convinced me he can tackle Harold with ease.
Nick, who is deaf and mute, has one of the most logical and effective minds of the survivors. On the way to Nebraska, he befriends Tom Cullen. It is his determination that leads him to Mother Abigail and towards becoming one of the leaders of the Boulder crew.
1st choice: Andrew Garfield
Garfield is an actor who say volumes with a mere expression (see his work in The Social Network as a prime example). He seems gentle on the surface, but this can hide great power (hence why he’s a perfect fit as Peter Parker).
Tom is Nick’s faithful and humble sidekick. Suffering from some type of mental retardation (the extent and origin of which is unknown), Tom is one of the most purely good-hearted of the band of survivors, and becomes one if its most vital members.
1st choice: Alfie Allen
Younger brother of singer Lily, Allen is best known as Theon Greyjoy on HBO’s Game of Thrones. He has a face that betrays every emotion and every instinct, which makes him perfectly suited to play the earnest Tom.
Nadine is a virginal and mentally unstable former schoolteacher who encounters Larry Underwood on his journey out of New York. She becomes convinced that she is pre-destined to be the mate and helper of the “Dark Man” (Randall Flagg) and through his will, she manipulates both Larry and Harold Louder.
1st choice: Maggie Gyllenhaal
She’s an unusual beauty (which would fit Nadine) who manages to radiate smarts as well as sex appeal. See Secretary as the perfect example of a normally straight-laced woman who isn’t afraid to go to the darker side to find her place in the world.
2nd choice: Emily Blunt
She may seem an odd choice, but she has the beauty and the brains to make a conflicted character like Nadine seem sympathetic. Her turn as Catherine Howard in the BBC miniseries Henry VIII gave her a chance to showcase her skills at entrancing a helpless male with the eyes alone. She also has the talent to make Nadine more than a one-note seductress.
The Trashcan Man:
The pyromaniac weapons expert for Randall Flagg, the only thing he worships more than the Dark Man is fire itself.
1st choice: Steve Buscemi
Before Boardwalk Empire, Buscemi was best known for playing creepy sidekick characters like no one’s business. He’s got the looks and the slightly crazed air to make it work.
2nd choice: Sharlto Copley
Best known for playing the conflicted lead in District 9, Copley would be a perfect choice for the manic role if it were to be played with a more subtle madness.
Flagg’s first lieutenant, Henreid is a hardened criminal who is forced to serve in Las Vegas and build a scattered empire.
1st choice: Rhys Ifans
Ifans can do creepy (Notting Hill) or charming (Anonymous) and has a face that can be either handsome or quirky depending on how he plays the role. As Lloyd, he is the perfect choice to be both smarmy and deadly.
2nd choice: Stephen Moyer
Taking the character in an entirely different direction, Moyer (best known for playing Vampire Bill on True Blood) could play cool and calculating with an undercurrent of raw menace. All this comes with a handsome but deceptive appearance.
A former professor with a grizzled body, but sharp mind, Glen and his dog Kojak join Stu and Fran on their journey to find Mother Abigail.
1st choice: Jeffrey De Munn
Best known for playing Dale on The Walking Dead, De Munn has already proven he can be a moral center with a hint of ironic humor.
A retired judge who befriends Larry and Lucy, the judge is central to the novel’s final act.
1st choice: Lawrence Fishburne
Good old Larry Fishburne screams authority and wisdom from every pore of his being. He can do this part justice while making it meaningful.
A young widow, Lucy battles the spectre of Nadine for the heart of Larry Underwood.
1st choice: Abbie Cornish
Cornish was a whip-smart mental patient in Sucker Punch and a loyal lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She has the ability to look wise beyond her years, while still appearing wholesome and approachable.
An educated and strong woman who becomes one of the well-placed spies in Las Vegas working to undermine Randall Flagg’s empire.
1st choice: Carla Gugino
As a volatile parole officer in Sin City and an attractive and cunning agent on Entourage, Gugino was a rare combination of power and prowess. She could make the smaller, but pivotal role of Dayna come to life with ease.
The Rat Man:
One of Flagg’s thugs, he is described as the most disgusting and depraved of even The Dark Man’s crew.
1st choice: Anthony Mackie
Another Hurt Locker veteran, Mackie also played the late Tupac in Notorious. He’s handsome, but with a sly and confident air that could make The Rat Man more than just a one-note character.
A depraved young woman who encounters Nick and Tom in Kansas. She later makes her way to Las Vegas to serve under Randall Flagg.
1st choice: Evan Rachel Wood
Wood was excellent as the conflicted daughter of the head of the DNC in Ides of March and equally compelling as the sadistic Veda in HBO’s adaptation of Mildred Pierce. She would make a small role into a wacky, deranged delight.