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10 of the Most Controversial Casting Decisions

Most Shocking
10 of the Most Controversial Casting Decisions

The internet -for all the good its done- has not simplified the job of casting. Everyone from a book or comic’s most die-hard fans to the web’s lurking population of trolls is happy (and apparently they consider themselves qualified) to weigh in on the subject of the latest reincarnation of Spiderman or the reboot of the Bourne series.

Sometimes a director might make a controversial call which pays off, resulting in a novel take on a familiar subject which reanimates a tired franchise. Sometimes a movie studio will make a deeply un-politically correct decision and cast a white actor in a role which requires someone other than Hollywood’s usual suspects. There’s even the odd example of nepotism when a director controversially casts their partner, son, daughter, or distant relative.

The internet means that big casting decisions are known early, and the cries of the dismayed fans are more vocal than ever. From the impression given by some of the fervent feedback, it seems that diehard fans may never forgive the directors behind some of the casting decisions on this list. Below are ten of the most shocking choices, some of which proved such masterful decisions that we can barely believe they were so contentious at the time, and others which turned out to be as disastrous as the cynics expected.

10. Daniel Craig as James Bond

Daniel Craig

Eight years of Pierce Brosnan had led Bond fans to expect a certain level of slickness. His portrayal gave the character a degree of polish that Fleming had never intended, and the films received mixed reviews as a result. Then, in 2005 Eon Productions approached Craig to play the world famous spy as a reimagined, revamped, and rougher 007.

Both the internet and the media immediately jumped on this casting, with headlines like ‘The Name’s Bland- James Bland’ and internet campaigns threatening to boycott the film. The bold choice paid off, however: The new Bond is widely considered to be the best in many years, with the introduction of a refreshing depth of character in Craig’s anti-heroic depiction which subtly questions whether Bond is a good guy, or ‘a bad guy who works for the good side’.

9. Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones

FILMS... Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004); Renee Zellweg

The list of actresses considered for the role of the the literary cult character of Bridget Jones is formidable: Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, Emily Watson, Rachel Weisz, Kate Winslet, and Cameron Diaz were all in the running at one stage. In the end the casting director went for the Zellweger, which infuriated many of the British readers of Helen Fielding’s novel. Bridget Jones is a quintessentially English character, and to cast an American was anathema to fans.

It took two years of research to cast Bridget, but when Renée Zellweger walked through the door the producers claim they knew that ‘she was Bridget’. Despite her strong accent Zellweger was confident she ‘could make that transition from being an American to becoming an English girl’. It seems that the critics and fans agreed, as the original Jones movie attracted critical acclaim and huge box office success, and has stood the test of time.

8. Adam Driver in Star Wars

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The acquisition of the Star Wars franchise from Lucas Films by Disney for over $4bn is controversial enough as it is. Attempts have been made to smooth over the process by keeping George Lucas on in a consulting capacity, but a series with as strong and loyal a following as this is always going to attract controversy across the board.

The most recent piece of news regarding the film (set to premiere at the end of 2015) is the casting of Adam Driver as the villain. The relatively unknown New Yorker has only had small roles in films like Francis Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis (though he’s been acclaimed in both), and is best known as the boyfriend in Lena Dunham’s Girls. Driver reportedly beat Fassbender and Hugo Weaving (Mr Smith in The Matrix) to the role.

7. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

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The choice of Lawrence for the role of Katniss Everdeen has been identified as part of a larger problem with Hollywood in the 21st century. The 20 year-old was admittedly a little old to play the teenage archer, and (as many fan-girls pointed out) Lawrences’ naturally blond hair didn’t match the brunette of the novels; however, the main issue was the ‘whitewashing’ of the character.

The casting director called for an actress who could appear ‘underfed’ but strong, pretty underneath her tomboyish looks, and ‘Caucasian’. In the book Katniss has ‘olive’ skin, grey eyes, and dark hair and has often been read to be of non-specific racial origins. Marissa Lee, co-founder of the web community Racebending.com saw The Hunger Games as an opportunity to cast an actress of Native American, or African American origin, but instead the part was given to the milky-white star of Winter’s Bone.

6. Heath Ledger as The Joker

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The movie magazine Empire makes a fair point about the casting of The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger’s pre-Batman filmography consisted of a gay cowboy, ‘former teen heartthrob,’ and a ‘one-time knight.’ These parts are somewhat at odds with the role of ‘demented sociopath with a thing for chaos’ for which he was auditioning. Many people failed to get over his role in 10 Things I Hate About YouA Knight’s Tale, and Brokeback Mountain and the cowboy jokes were made ‘ad nauseam’.

No one needs to be reminded how wrong the naysayers were proven. The casting saw Ledger being awarded a posthumous Oscar (which he would have likely received regardless of the circumstances) for his disturbing and now iconic depiction as the Joker opposite Christian Bale’s Batman.

5. Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

Robert Pattinson has often made comments which suggest he regrets choosing to accept the offer of the part of Edward Cullen. The fans wanted a bigger name like James Franco or Tom Welling (from Smallville) rather than the British actor who was only known for his brief appearance as Cedric Diggory in the decade’s other massive movie franchise, Harry Potter.

The fangirls seem to have changed their mind though, as Pattinson now spends a lot of his time avoiding legions of fans who have been known to chase him down the street, screaming ‘Bite Me’. As of 2011, Pattinson was estimated to be worth around £32m, which should compensate a little for the fact that he’ll probably never manage to shed the vampire’s skin.

4. Jake Gyllenhaal as The Prince of Persia

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Like The Hunger Games, the casting controversy surrounding the Prince of Persia boils down to the whitewashing of an ethnic character. Critics compared the casting of  Gyllenhaal (whose ancestry is Swedish, Russian and Jewish) as the Arabic character to another Disney movie set in the Middle East: Aladdin. In this film the lead protagonist’s cartoon skin was whitened and his accent Americanised, whilst the evil Jafar was left with a more natural skin-tone, and a strong accent.

3. Ben Affleck as Batman

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Affleck spent three days avoiding the internet following the announcement of his part in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film. The award winning actor and director talked to Jimmy Fallon about Warner Brother’s warning about the probably backlash – though whether they expected the Change.org petition against the casting to reach just under 100,000 signatures is unclear.

When he appeared on Late Night Affleck discussed the call offering him the job, saying that ‘[The studio] called me up and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I thought, ‘Well you know, I’m not 25. Are you sure?’ Apparently the fans weren’t sure, and the jury’s still out – leaving Affleck with a tough audience to impress in the upcoming movie. Luckily Affleck isn’t alone on this one, with the recent casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor also attracting a lot of flak.

2. Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone

Nepotism is always at its worst when carried out in the public eye, and Francis Coppola’s casting of his daughter in the final Godfather movie is a particularly unfortunate example. Sofia played the young Mary Corleone, and her lack of acting experience has led to her being slated as the worst part of the worst film in an otherwise perfect series. Coppola has probably recovered from this embarrassing period of her life by now, with her own successful directing career as solace.

1. Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey

Casting decisions are most controversial when the character in question has a preexisting following of some kind. Fans have particular ideas about what Batman or Edward Cullen should look and sound like, and are happy to take to the blogosphere at the drop of a hat when a director makes a decision which doesn’t quite fit the preconceived idea.

Its easy to see why the casting of the Christian Grey would be a somewhat daunting task. 50 Shades of Grey sold almost 20 million print and digital copies in the US, and when Hunnam was announced as the lead character it seemed like every single one of these 20 million readers was out for his blood. Unlike Affleck, Hunnam didn’t simply weather out the storm away from the internet; in mid-October he announced that his TV scheduling and family issues meant that he wouldn’t be able to play the seductive billionaire after all. The role has since been given to Irish actor Jamie Dornan, a former model whose acting resume is relatively small.

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