Agent Bobby here! Agent Denise has graciously allowed me to borrow her column this week, with the promise that “I’ll take care of it,” followed by her alarmed shout of “Not a scratch!” This week, I’m taking a look at a subject nearest and dearest to me – the much-talked about, little-seen potential adaptation of the book series “The Dark Tower” into a movie. Or a television show. Or both. It’s complicated, but we know Ron Howard is involved. Possibly.
Before we begin: these are my favorite books of all time. Thought I’d clear that bias out right at the front.
The Dark Tower series, penned by Stephen King, spans 7 novels and tells the story of Roland the Last Gunslinger, a kind of western/apocalypse-flavored Knight Errant on his quest for the titular building. Inspired by the T.S. Eliot poem “The Wasteland,” the story grew into what King considers his magnum opus, and ends up interconnecting with King’s entire oeuvre and telling the story of a multi-verse. Think of “The Lord of the Rings” filtered through Quentin Tarantino, starring Clint Eastwood, and you get a pretty good idea about how the story feels.
The plot is insane in the best way, and manages to cram cowboys, Nazis, the Wizard of Oz, mutant birdmen, evil sorcerers, psychics, vampires, and giant robot bears into a delicious asskicking gumbo. Like any Stephen King story, however, it boils down to the characters, which is why casting the “ka-tet” (Roland and his gang) might be the most important part of the whole precedings. Ideally, they should cast a bunch of unknowns. That shit ain’t gonna happen though. Allow me to take a crack, shall we?
Roland, The Last Gunslinger
Roland is the ultimate wanderer figure, the quintessential western archetype painted to exacting detail. There’s no pretense, either – Roland is the real fucking deal. Badass, yes, but hard. Cruel, almost – King asks the question “What would it do to a person to become a lonely survivor, a hero with no home, a single-minded man on a single-minded quest?” The results are not pretty, and King depicts him unflinchingly. You could easily debate whether Roland even qualifies as a “hero” at all.
Roland is a difficult character to cast – his casting, in my opinion, defines the success or failure of the entire franchise. Roland can be a relentless bastard, and in the next scene a loving father, and in the next a surprisingly educated knight with full courtly manners. He’s complex, but more importantly (and paradoxically), he’s simple. This is a man with layers, true, but all the layers form one solid whole, like laminate. This is a man whose job it is to SAVE THE MULTIVERSE. He will do anything it takes, kill anyone in his way, and more importantly, he will survive. This is a man who (he admits in the story) has no imagination, no spectacular intelligence or strategic ability. He’s just good at surviving. That’s all.
Jim Carrey as Roland Deschain
This is the part where, if I were a casting director, the studio execs would leap across the table and take a pen-swipe at my eye – I pick Jim Carrey. Yes, Jim “Excuse Me, Your Balls Are Showing” Carrey. For Roland, yes. For Roland the Gunslinger.
First off, Roland is described as “long, tall, and ugly.” Carrey’s not bad-looking, but he is tall and thin and lean. Roland is often described as looking like Clint Eastwood, and Jim Carrey also does a pretty great Eastwood impression – not that he should do that straight during the movie, but he could certainly pepper a form of it over his entire performance. With age, Carrey’s face has gotten craggier, too, and he can look genuinely terrifying when he wants to – observe.
Outside of physicality, which Carrey nails perfectly, Roland is an intense, closed-off man who nonetheless seems to project a powerful charisma. That’s easy to achieve in a book – you just have an observing character say “He seemed quiet, simple, but I was drawn to him. He radiated with power” or some other piece of purple prose. In a movie? Achieving something like that falls 100% on the actor’s shoulders. This is where Jim Carrey is PERFECT. This is a man known for his intensity – his level of manic energy is seemingly endless. He has that Robin Williams quality, like you could power a nuclear reactor with a jar of his blood. You expect him to leap into a funny voice, or to flail his long mantis-like limbs wildly, or to fling his face against a couch.
Now imagine him standing quietly. No words. A desert rolling behind him, a pair of big revolvers on his hips, his eyes narrow. No words. Jim Carrey, covered with dust. His mouth a thin line. No music. Bloody bodies litter the ground in front of him.
Jim Carrey acting calm is the most frightening thing I can think of. You’d feel that energy radiating beneath the surface, waiting for something crazy to happen, wanting him to smile, wanting him to laugh, anything to break this grim visage. Which is EXACTLY what you should feel when Roland is staring you down.
Defining Character Moment: Roland is attacked by the entire population of a town (man, woman, and child) . . . and kills them, by himself.
Typical Dialogue: “First come smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”
Understudies: John C. McGinley(Scrubs), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek)
A smartass heroin junkie from Brooklyn, Eddie Dean generally provides the levity for the hard-traveled group. He’s the most pop-culturally educated member of the bunch, and he’s arguably the “smart guy.” He’s the one who asks the “Why the hell are we doing this, again” type questions. He’s anti-authority, anti-tradition, and in general a lovable pain in the ass. His out-of-the-box thinking is his greatest strength. Imagine if Spider-Man loved heroin and had a shitty childhood.
Joseph Gordon Levitt as Eddie Dean
Joseph Gordon Levitt has proven that he can pull off a smart ass just fine – “10 Things I Hate About You,” “500 Days of Summer.” His action cred is relatively new, but still highly respectable – “Inception,” “Dark Knight Rises.” He can also pull off a grungier, other-side-of-the-tracks character with aplomb – “Looper,” “Don Jon.” He also has the dark, lean look that could translate perfectly to “strung-out junkie.” Plus he’s a known trigger for lady-boners, and will help bring the womenfolk into the theater by the truckload.
Defining Character Moment: Eddie gets in a gunfight, while naked, with about a dozen pissed-off mafia drug lords.
Typical Dialogue: “Why did the dead baby cross the road? Because it was stapled to the chicken, you dopey fuck!”
Understudies: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
Susannah (and friends)
One of the finer marksmen in the series (second only to Roland in gunslinging abilities), Susannah is a trash-talking black chick from 1960’s New York who happens to be just a teensy-bit crazy. She also doesn’t have any legs due to a train accident in her past, and is relegated to either a wheelchair or being papoosed by Eddie or Roland. A pair of dualing personalities bang around in her end, and they sometimes pop out to “help” the situation. “Detta Walker” is a shrieking, racist, terrifyingly clever personality who is not to be fucked with. “Odetta Holmes” is extremely smart, if weak-willed and “fancy.”
Zoe Saldana as Susannah
Zoe Saldana is getting a lot of work, so it seems like a cop-out to choose her for any role listed as “young black female.” However, Zoe is also a fantastic actress with a history of feeling grounded and human despite fantastical surroundings – “Avatar,” “Star Trek,” and the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Plus, she’s great at being angry and slapping down smart-asses, which will make her ideal to go head-to-head with Eddie.
Defining Character Moment: She rapes a demon. Yeah. You read that right. And she laughs her head off while she’s doing it.
Typical Dialogue: “You must never draw until you know how many are against you, or you’ve satisfied yourself that you can never know, or you’ve decided it’s your day to die.”
Understudies: Alicia Keys (Smokin’ Aces), Naomie Harris (Skyfall)
Jake is an eleven-year-old kid who is actually the first member of the ka-tet that Roland meets. He’s shockingly resourceful and fearless for his age, but not in that “annoying tagalong kid” kind of way. Jake is more emotionally mature than those characters tend to be, and he definitely serves as the heart of the group. He’s a holy terror in a fight, often underestimated to the sorrow of many a bad guy. Jake’s also a teensy bit psychic.
Sean Giambrone As Jake Chambers
Jake has to be smart and cute, but with a flavor of adulthood, a “wise beyond his years.” Sean Giambrone from ABC’s “Goldbergs” meets those criteria to the metaphorical “T.” What does that “T” stand for in that idiom? Whatever. Doesn’t matter. They chose Sean for the Goldbergs because of his precocious nature, and he carries an adult level of confidence on that show. He’s got the right hair color, and it would be pants-shittingly terrifying to see him in some of the situations Jake gets up to – being attacked by a giant evil house, running from mutants, murdering child-stealing bipedal wolves, etc.
Defining Character Moment: Writes an insane, rambling, schizophrenic English paper about a demon train. Get’s an A+.
Typical Dialogue: “I don’t like people. They fuck me up.”
Understudies: Chandler Riggs (Walking Dead), Pierce Gagnon (Looper)
Randall Flagg, the Walking Dude
Randall Flagg isn’t Stephen King’s ubervillain, as is often said – that’d be the Crimson King. However, Randall Flagg is certainly Stephen King’s BEST villain – part Loki, part Satan, as oddly likable as he is completely evil. He fought God’s soldiers in “The Stand,” he tried to topple a kingdom in “Eyes of the Dragon,” and in the Dark Tower he’s throwing every obstacle in the “Tricky Fucker Manual” in front of Roland and his gang. An illusionist and a master manipulator, Randall Flagg is the Joker to Roland’s Batman – a laughing, dancing, psychotic murderer tap dancing in the fires that eat the world. Roland could kill him in seconds in a straight fight – something Flagg never ever participates in.
Stephen Dorff As Randal Flagg
Stephen Dorff is older now, but he has that boyish, energetic quality to him that’s right at home in Flagg’s shoes. Plus, Flagg’s age is irrelevant, considering he’s an immortal world-hopping sorcerer. As shown in “Blade,” Stephen Dorff is brilliant as a mocking, smirking, bragging douchebag opposite a stoic hero. His smoky (eCig-y?) voice would be great on a scheming fellow like Flagg, as well. Also, Stephen Dorff isn’t getting a lot of work and that guy deserves to be in a major flick.
Defining Character Moment: Too many to count. The dude is chuckling maliciousness personified.
Typical Dialogue: “Liars sit in chairs, you know. Truth tellers just sort of hunker down.”
Understudies: Jamey Sheridan (The Stand), Edward Norton (Death to Smoochy)
What’s Your Dreamcasting?
What do you think? Agree, disagree, have suggestions of your own? Or, do you have ideas for casting less prominent characters like Father Callahan, Young Roland/Cuthbert/Alain, Susan Delgado, the Tick Tock Man, Rhea of the Coos, or even Mordred or the Crimson King himself? Shoot your brain-thoughts into the comments below, and I’ll say “thankee-sai.”