Monday, April 20, 2015

Casting: Ready Player One

For those of you who are Ernest Cline fans, I am completely sure that you have read his novel Ready Player One, and I’m sure that you all were totally jazzed, elated, dancing in the street happy to hear that Spielberg was picked to direct the film adaptation.

For those who have never read Ready Player One, first… what is your damage?
Ready Player One is a classic Arthurian Grail Quest, complete with questing knights, a fisher king, an evil nemesis, and an outspoken wizard, of sorts, couched in a pop-culture strewn, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic joy ride of a book.  It is so full of 80’s pop culture trivia that even I, a pop-culture nerd of the 1980’s, had to read it with Wikipedia on and ready to go.  So you younger readers may want to brush up on your 80’s trivia with a John Hughes marathon, then head over to your grandparent’s house to see if they stashed their Atari 2600 in the attic, before reading this book, otherwise you probably won’t get some of the jokes.

The basic premise of the story is this: An old 80’s obsessed game designer and his friend (Halliday and Og) invent a giant virtual reality MMORPG called the Oasis, from which, they get fabulously wealthy.  The Oasis continues to grow until it absorbs the internet to the point that it is impossible to access the knowledge of the net without being on the Oasis.  Shopping, education, & entertainment are all done through the MMORPG.  The world population is so overcome by the Oasis that they spend all their waking hours in a virtual world while the real world crumbles around them.  Halliday then dies, and having no heirs, he leaves his vast fortune and control of the Oasis to the first person (Avatar) who can solve a series of riddles and find the Easter Egg that he has hidden somewhere in the symulation.  Easy enough… Right?
With all of the iconic 80’s references that are so ingrained in the story, I wonder how the screen writers will incorporate them, and how the production company will deal with licensing.

Now, I am not one of those guys who try to guess the cast of a movie before it is cast, and I usually scoff at people who post their wish lists, but I’ve seen a couple of them so far, and I’ve totally disagreed with every one of them.  So, breaking my own rules here, here is my casting list for the upcoming movie, Ready Player One.
Oh, and by the way, spoiler’s ahead… just in case you have not read the book.

Parzival / Wade Watts
Wade just has to have a certain look.  He’s a nerd, a geek, a dork, and must convey that vulnerability.  The kind of vulnerability that makes jock boys want to shove him into a high school locker after administering an atomic wedgie.  He also has to be young, 17 years old, tops.  Some actors in their 20’s can play 17, but not convincingly.  For these reasons I choose:  Asa Butterfield

At first, I thought that Butterfield was just too scrawny to play a slightly portly Wade, but do I want to cast based on body type alone or on acting ability.  I loved Butterfield as Ender Wiggin, and I believe that he could do a fine job as Parzival.
Art3mis / Samantha

Art3mis is a hip, young quester (Gunter) and blogger with a secret. Isn’t that always the case?  Wade is pretty sure that he has a huge cyber-crush on her even though he has no idea what she really looks like.  Art3mis wears sci-fi inspired armor with twin blasters on her hips in a “Quick-Draw” fashion and unlike the other wasp waisted, barbi doll, style avatars found in the Oasis, she designed hers to have a curvy, real world, look.  Her actor needs to be able to deliver quick come backs with a crooked smile while hiding a deep vulnerability, and so I would cast:  Hailee Steinfeld

I know, she and Butterfield were in Ender’s Game together… So what!  Did you see her in True Grit?  Amazing!  Change her smart assed remarks in True Grit to be delivered with a new geeky, hipster phraseology, and you have Art3mis.  There you go.
Aech / Helen Harris

This character presents a couple of problems for casting.  In the online world of the Oasis, Aech is young man and white.  In the real world, Helen Harris is a young woman and African-American.  So… Aech needs to be played by two entirely different actors.  And while the book describes these two alter egos as looking vaguely alike, I don’t think that this is entirely necessary in the movie.
My choice for Aech:  Josh Hutcherson

  For Helen:  Raven Goodwin

I know… Josh Hutcherson?  Peeta?  Well, before you slam my head into the wall for such a choice… let me explain.  Hutcherson did a great job in the Hunger Games, I thought, he has the right look to be Aech, and my teenaged daughters would approve.  The weirdness of this story is strange enough that it may not appeal to the contemporary teen market unless you can put a name in its cast that will draw in the teen girl demographic.  Movies are a business and Hutcherson could deliver on that.  This is not to say that he’s not a fine actor.  I’ve liked him in just about everything I’ve seen him in.
As for Raven Goodwin, I’m afraid that I would cast het for body type alone.  I know that’s shallow of me, but what can I say?  I was watching Good Luck Charlie with my 11 year old daughter a week or so ago, while I was contemplating this casting list, and watched Goodwin in one of those episodes.  She’s a lovely girl and very funny.  Now, while Helen is not so much a funny character, I heard Joss Whedon say that he likes casting comedians for dramatic rolls because if they can get people to laugh, they can easily get them to cry. That’s what I think Goodwin can deliver

Nolan Sorrento
Sorrento is the leader of the egg hunting division of Innovative Online Industries, an evil corporation that wants to take over the Oasis by finding Halliday’s Easter Egg.  Kind of like how the Nazi’s wanted to find the Holy Grail in Last Crusade.

I went back and forth about the casting of Sorrento.  I wanted someone who can play totally evil while maintaining an upright, stick up the butt, corporate presence.  My answer for the casting came while I was watching Joss Whedon’s take on Much Ado about Nothing.  Nathan Fillion was a great Dogberry!  Yes, he was a goofball, but Dogberry is a goofball character.  But his presence in the suit, the lackey that followed him around, the whole image was a brilliance that I could not ignore.  Take the image of Dogberry and mix that with the cynicism of Mal Reynolds in Serenity and you have Nolan Sorrento.

Ogden Morrow / The Great and Powerful Og & James Halliday / Anorak

I’m going to take on Og before Halliday because in many ways, Og plays more of a part in the story line than Halliday.
Og, is the Woz to Halliday’s Jobs, or maybe the other way around.  He is the surviving partner of the two Oasis creators.  He was the less focused of the two, the less technically minded, but a far better business man.  He was a people person when Halliday was not.  Because of Og’s goofy Zen-like aura that continually floats around him I thought that Jeff Daniels would be a perfect match.  But then I thought, Jeff has the Zen, but not the goof, and apart from Tron, he has almost no geek cred.  Who does?  My pick does, Wil Wheaton.

Right!?!  The guy oozes geek cred.  Will Wheaton was born to play the Great and Powerful Og!  Granted, he is too young to play the aged Ogden Morrow, but who cares.  Makeup artists are geniuses at aging people.
James Halliday on the other hand is not such an easy choice.  The actor would have to be older, and have to be able to play a man so awkward around people that he borders on mild autism.  I really wish Philip Seymour Hoffman was still living.  *sigh*  So who to pick?  Who do you go to when you need a great character actor, and Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t available?  Easy… Gary Oldman.

I’ve been looking for actors to play the brothers Daito & Shoto, and just can’t find anyone I really like.  They have to be of Asian descent, preferably Japanese… but I have no ideas, and I guess it really doesn’t matter because they play such a small part until the end of the book.
So, there you go.  These are my picks for casting Ready Player One.  I can’t wait for this movie to hit the screen, but I am so afraid that Hollywood will just screw it up, just like they screwed up Starship Troopers.  I can see myself sitting in the theater thinking, “This is bad, this is Highlander 2 bad.”

Let's hope not...


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