Saturday 16 December 2017

Wouldn't Clint be just perfect as Bond? No, punk!

As Hollywood's toughest cowboy says he was asked to play 007, Darragh McManus surveys the history of miscasting

Cast aside: Clint Eastwood was slated to play Rambo, Bond and John McClane in Die Hard
Cast aside: Clint Eastwood was slated to play Rambo, Bond and John McClane in Die Hard
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The James Bond series of films has become almost as famous for its unforgettable catchphrases, as its gadgets, gals, exotic locales and ridiculous baddies with a hook for a hand and a palace on the moon.

"Vodka martini, shaken not stirred." "The name's Bond -- James Bond." "Do you expect me to talk? No, I expect you to die." All classic lines from the vaults.

In fact, only Clint Eastwood has been associated with more memorable one-liners: "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya punk?" "Go ahead, make my day." "Any man here don't want to get shot, better clear on out the back."

And now it has emerged that, weirdly enough, Clint might have been the one uttering those iconic Bond lines. He recently admitted he was offered "pretty good money" to take over the role after Sean Connery stepped down.

It's hard to picture the gravel-voiced, rough-hewn Eastwood playing the smooth, quintessentially English superspy, though, isn't it? All those double entendres mightn't have seemed quite so charming being growled by a six-foot-four cowboy who looks like he was carved out of granite.

Perhaps even weirder, Clint was also offered the role of Superman, which eventually went to the late Christopher Reeve, but decided he was too old. Again, it's difficult to imagine the movies' most famous roughneck playing meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent and his squeaky-clean alter-ego.

But of course cinema is littered with strange, unlikely and perplexing casting decisions, some of which came to pass; others merely mooted.

And many of those involved Mr Eastwood himself.

In 1969, for instance, he was cast opposite Lee Marvin in the comic musical western, Paint Your Wagon. Why they decided to take two of the all-time great tough guys and not make an action movie, we'll never know. While Paint Your Wagon is fitfully entertaining, it's still an oddity and an out-of-place addition to both men's portfolios.

Clint was also, at some stage, associated with such unlikely roles as Willard in Apocalypse Now; Two-Face in Batman Forever; John McClane; Rambo; the lead part in Big; one of the two leads in Men in Black; and George Clooney's daredevil soldier in Three Kings. This last one is particularly daft, as the man was about 70 years old when they filmed it.

Sean Connery, meanwhile, has turned down more roles than you could shake a stick at, and a good thing too, as most of them were totally unsuitable. Deckard in Blade Runner, Colin Farrell's dad in Alexander, Caravaggio in The English Patient, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, The Architect in The Matrix, the lead in Pretty Woman . . . Connery would have been totally wrong for all of them.

As it was, anyway, he took a number of parts that were just as wrong: an Irish cop in The Untouchables, a Spanish swordsman in Highlander, a Russian seaman in The Hunt for Red October, at least two English kings . . . and each one with an accent you wouldn't find outside of Glasgow.

There have been lots of other near-misses, involving actors and highly unlikely jobs. Is it even possible, for example, that they considered Robert de Niro for the lead role in comedy Splash? Or the same man in Willie Wonka or Runaway Bride? Fantastic actor, no doubt, but we say no, no, no.

On the flipside, Desi Arnaz Jr -- son of Desi Sr and Lucille Ball -- auditioned for De Niro's most famous role, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Desi was young, pretty and innocent-looking: not quite what you want in an avenging maniac.

Jack Nicholson -- one of the few stars as legendary as Clint or Connery -- has reportedly turned down more than 50 roles in his lengthy career, including the parts of God in Bruce Almighty and Michael Corleone in The Godfather. A ruthless and murdering mobster, we can see him doing. The benevolent creator of all life? Mm, maybe not so much.

Sometimes these wildcard casting decisions come to pass, and sometimes -- though not too often -- they work. We liked Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes; Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain in Mission: Impossible III; Charlize Theron in Monster; Kris Kristofferson in Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush in W.

But more often they don't. Jake Gyllenhaal as a buff sword-swinging action hero (Prince of Persia)? Samuel L Jackson as a Jedi (the three Star Wars prequels)? Denise Williams as a nuclear scientist (The World is Not Enough)? Keira Knightley as a kick-ass bounty hunter (Domino)? Bruce Willis as a psychiatrist (Colour of Night)?

What genius gave the green-light to any of those? And how long did they remain in their job afterwards?

And the unlikely team-ups look like continuing. Recent rumours have linked Johnny Depp to the role of Lex Luthor, the baddie in yet another Superman remake. Stranger still, Beyonce has been spoken of as Lois Lane, which makes no sense at all because A) she can't act, and B) she's a whole different race.

Brad Pitt in the latest videogame adaptation, Red Dead Redemption? Wholesome starlet Emma Roberts in horror flick Scream 4? Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and -- yep, him again -- Robert De Niro as gun-toting Paddies in The Irishman? Kiefer Sutherland and Bruce Willis in Fantastic Four?

They're all being talked about at the moment, and all sound like the worst idea since they decided to employ fire-breathers as in-flight entertainment on the Graf Zeppelin.

Still, let's look on the bright side: Martin Freeman of The Office has reportedly just turned down the part of Bilbo in the forthcoming Hobbit movie, so at least we'll be spared a mopey, self-pitying hero, shuffling around the Shire and moaning about how annoying his boss is.

Meanwhile, Sacha Baron Cohen is set to play Freddie Mercury in a biopic of the late Queen singer, a casting call that could prove terrible or inspired -- and possibly both at the same time. At least it will be directed by Peter Morgan, who seems to specialise in "real-life" stories: he's made movies about Richard Nixon, Idi Amin and Queen Elizabeth.

But, while Baron Cohen is undoubtedly a very talented guy, we've yet to be provided with evidence that he can act to a traditional script. Borat, Bruno and Ali G were what you might call acts of improvised lunacy; they needed a brass neck, an absolute lack of self-consciousness, and the ability to keep a straight face and remain in character. Playing Freddie in a biopic needs more and, at the same time, less from the performer.

And none of these choices could possibly be as weird, ill-chosen or disastrous as the casting of OJ Simpson as The Terminator. He was considered for the role, back in the early '80s, before Governator Arnie was given the job.

At the time it would have seemed a poor choice, simply because he couldn't act to save his life; as subsequent events showed, it would have been a terrible choice.

Although as it turned out, he really could act to save his life -- and did.

Irish Independent

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