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COMIC BOOK MOVIE MISCASTS
Sunday, September 10, 2005
Author: Cary Ashby

Imagine being an influential movie director who is starting to cast the next big screen adaptation of the comic book of your choice. What essential elements would your look for in casting your starring role?

Action-adventure experience? Absolutely. Onscreen charisma? No doubt. Good looks? Hello, this is Hollywood!

How about looking for a similar physique or hair color as the chosen super hero or heroine? It would be the icing on the cake.but are those characteristics fair to the actors or fans?

Changing hair color and style is a way of life for pop singers Christina Aguilera, Madonna and David Bowie. That's generally not what comic book fans expect in casting decisions.

Most recently, Chris Evans is a brunette playing the blond-haired Johnny Storm in "Fantastic Four." Kate Bosworth, a natural blonde, dyed her hair brown to play reporter Lois Lane in the upcoming "Superman Returns." Michelle Pfieffer kept her blond, curly locks as Catwoman/Selina Kyle - a raven-haired character originally - back in 1992's "Batman Returns."

Brunettes as blondes. Blondes as brunettes. It gets ugly and controversial.

Why do comic fans resist change when the hair color or physique of an actor or actress is different than the character he or she is playing? Fans know a certain character has had a specific hair color for years and we expect that to be maintained/unchanged on film.

Amazingly, and ironically, all it takes is a great acting job for us to forget our whining.

Ask anybody who saw "Fantastic Four" about which actor or actress was the most memorable. My money is on Evans as the cocky, energetic and flamboyant Human Torch.

Let's use Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios in "Daredevil" and the title character in the self-titled bomb as a more detailed example. Garner's good-girl offscreen personality didn't the fit what fans envisioned for the dangerous element necessary to play the assassin. To make matters "worse," Garner has no Greek heritage and beautiful, brown hair - not Elektra's shiny, straight, black hair.

To put it bluntly, Salma Hayek or Catherine Zeta-Jones resemble Elektra more than Garner does.

(An interesting aside: Garner's hair was straight in "Elektra." Hmmm...)

Garner's performance as Elektra was solid in both flicks. The result? No movie critic noticed or mentioned the discrepancies.

Interestingly, "Daredevil" director Mark Steven Johnson went against casting types down the line. Garner's co-star (now husband), Ben Affleck - a brunette - was cast in the red-headed title role. Colin Farrell's Bullseye is bald (a reference to only a handful of DD issues) and a black man, Michael Clarke Duncan, plays the Caucasian crime boss, The Kingpin. They all made those roles their own and did an outstanding job.

Back in the late 1980s, Michael Keaton quickly became the poster boy for super hero miscasting. For decades, fans looked forward to Hollywood bringing Batman to the big screen - only to discover the physically slight, comedic actor with the fading hair line was cast in the part.

The feedback was instantaneous. Nearly everyone - from die-hard comic book fans to the average person on the street - was dumbfounded when director Tim Burton made the announcement.

"You mean 'Mr. Mom' is going to be Batman?!?"

Keaton, to be kind, didn't match the Caped Crusader's physique at all. Significantly shorter than Batman's official DC Comics height of 6-2, Keaton had to wear lifts in his boots and depend on camera angles to give the appearance of being taller than his castmates. He wore a muscle-toned armor as Batman.

Burton was forced to defend his choice to the media. He chose Keaton exactly because he didn't fit the "super hero type." Burton said many square-jawed actors auditioned for the part - and could have worn the Batsuit as easily as anybody else.

The director, however, maintained that a normal a person like Bruce Wayne - and in turn, Keaton - could train himself to become Batman.

Burton supported Keaton because he liked the "Everyman" feel of having Keaton behind the cowl. He also stressed that Keaton had a look in his eyes that reflected the pain and scarred psychosis that an adult might have after seeing his parents shot to death when he was a child.

The actor even had to defend himself to the press. It often sounded as if Keaton were Burton's mouthpiece.

Keaton, however, proved to be a winner. Many fans say he was the best of the three Batman actors in the original franchise. It is indeed fun watching Keaton's Caped Crusader defeat one henchman after another.

Movie critics say Keaton brought the darkness necessary to play Gotham City's grim guardian.

His "Batman voice" alone has had a long-lasting impact. Animation voice actor Kevin Conroy, Val Kilmer of "Batman Forever" and Christian Bale of "Batman Begins" all used a similar vocal technique for their portrayals.

Maybe I am one of those fans Keaton called a "DC Comics Fundamentalist" who ideally wants to see comics directly transposed to film. Better yet, maybe Tim Burton and Mark Steven Johnson are onto something - directors look for that "certain something" when casting roles, not necessarily hair colors and physiques.

Maybe hair color and physiques shouldn't mean that much. I still say it's not too much to buy some hair coloring products or a wig for a big budget comic book movie.

The debate continues.

BOF contributor Cary Ashby writes a twice-monthly comic book column for the "Norwalk Reflector." He is also the newspaper’s crime and education reporter. Cary has an extensive collection of Batman comics and has been an avid fan for nearly 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at ashby@goreflector.com.

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