Casting Call: ‘Ready Player One’
****ALERT! SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW****
If you’ve followed me regularly on House of Geekery, you already know my unmitigated love for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. While I always thought it would make a great film and although the movie rights were sold to Hollywood, I highly doubted that an actual film would come about. The main reason being that the novel is filled with pop culture references, everything from Star Wars and Back to the Future, to the band Rush, to the old arcade game Joust. Pop culture remains at the heart of Ready Player One. In fact it IS the heart of the book. Remove the heart and the body dies. Copyright issues would be a nightmare.
Enter Steven Spielberg. You couldn’t have picked a more perfect director than Spielberg to helm this film. Forget about the fact that the two-time Oscar-winning director brings immediate clout to the project, Ready Player One is rife with all things Spielberg, many of which he just happens to own the property rights to. Honestly I don’t know if any other director would be able to pull this whole thing together.
Now that the Ready Player One ship (spaceship?) has a Captain, the next step is gathering the crew, AKA the actors. Who should portray these characters?
I have a few ideas.
Clark Duke as Wade Owen Watts/Parzival
Most of you probably know Clark Duke as Jacob Yates from Hot Tub Time Machine or Marty from Kick-Ass. While his resume is somewhat limited and his age may be a concern, (Duke is thirty while Watts is eighteen) I believe he’s perfect for a couple of reasons. First off, despite his age he’s youthful enough looking to pull off an eighteen year old. Hell if Andrew Garfield can play Peter Parker/Spider-man in his late twenties, Duke should be able to tackle this role. Secondly, he’s a virtual unknown among your average filmgoer, so there wouldn’t be as much pressure, expectations, or divisiveness like there would be if you cast someone like Daniel Radcliffe or Nicholas Hoult. Finally and most importantly, he possesses that nerd look and charisma that Wade Watts needs. Watts needs to be the geek you empathize with and root for, and Duke certainly looks and fits the part.
Taron Egerton and Gabourey Sidibe as Aech/Helen Harris
Casting Wade’s best friend is a tricky situation in that unlike the other characters he (or rather she) is actually two people. There’s the male online version, Aech, and the real life version, Helen Harris, who’s female, black, and a lesbian.
Let’s begin with Aech. Egerton is quickly becoming a rising star with the recent success of Kingsman: The Secret Service. He’s also set to play The Prince of Thieves in Robin Hood: Origins. (Side note: That production has just been delayed so that the sequel to Kingsman can begin shooting in April of next year. Yay!) I always envisioned Aech as a rogueishly handsome teenager, akin to someone out of an 1980s John Hughes film like Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles. Aech should be the handsome, cooler best friend whose counterpart (in this case Wade) is a little more socially awkward. Sounds a little like an 1980s movie cliché, but then again the entire novel is based almost exclusively on 1980s pop culture. Granted Egerton does have an English accent, however any actor worth his salt should be able to do an American accent. Besides, I don’t believe it’s essential for Aech to be American. Users from all over the globe interact inside the OASIS so it doesn’t really make a difference. Also Egerton’s striking good looks will make the big reveal as to Aech’s actual identity have that much more of an impact.
For Aech’s real life character, Helen Harris, you couldn’t get much different from Academy Award nominated actress (Precious) Gabourey Sidibe. In fact since one is a handsome white teenager and the other being an overweight black lesbian, I’d say they are polar opposites. At least physically. When I read Ready Player One I always pictured Sidibe in this role. The casting would be Kismet. Not only does she look the part but she has the acting chops to nail this role. One of the themes of Ready Player One is identity, which includes sexual identity. I believe Sidibe can bring the requisite pathos to Helen’s character and of all my suggestions in this article, this is the one I’m really rooting for.
Ariel Winter as Samantha Evelyn Cook/Art3mis
Any fan of the television show Modern Family (such as myself) should recognize the super smart, super sarcastic actress who plays Alex Dunphy. If you are a parent you may even recognize her as the voice of Sofia from Disney’s Sofia the First. Winter already has the character qualities that Art3mis needs. She’s smart, sarcastic, nerdy in both looks and demeanor, and attractive in the Rubenesque manner that Cline describes her as. Art3mis isn’t meant to be some knockout beauty like Jennifer Lawrence. Art3mis’ character is a very physical role as well, one that I think Winter is suited for. Some might suggest she’s a little young-looking for the part (Winter turns eighteen in January) but again the character is only eighteen in the novel. Plus she already has a great nerd pedigree. She voiced Carrie Kelley in the animated version of The Dark Knight Returns.
Tom Hanks as James Halliday/Anorak
At first glance this might seem like an odd choice for the extroverted and gregarious Hanks to play a reclusive introvert Steve Jobs/Howard Hughes like character and creator of the free virtual reality world of the OASIS. He’s also the creator of the Egg Hunt to acquire control of the OASIS and his net worth of $240 billion. However, the two-time Oscar Winner (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) is one of our greatest living actors. Any great actor loves a challenge and this may be Hanks’ biggest yet. It would be nice to see Hanks step out of his comfort zone and tackle Halliday. Plus how cool would it be to see him in a wizard’s outfit? You also have the added bonus of the rapport between Hanks and Spielberg. They’ve worked on multiple projects together and their chemistry and success has been proven time and again. Also we’ve never seen the two work on a science fiction project together. The possibility is intriguing.
Oliver Platt as Ogden Morrow
Cline’s character of Morrow is the Steve Wozniak to James Halliday. Their story arcs mimic the two real life personalities of Jobs and Wozniak in many ways. At first I thought it would be a good idea for Wozniak himself to play the role. However, aside from a cameo as himself on The Big Bang Theory, the man really doesn’t have any acting experience. Platt, the fifty-five year old actor of films like Frost/Nixon and X-Men: First Class on the other hand has oodles of experience. Platt brings an exuberant personality that fits hand in glove with Ogden’s character. Throw some gray in Platt’s hair and have him grow a beard, and you’ll get the physical transformation necessary as well.
Ki Hong Lee and Masi Oka as Akihide Karatsu/Daito and Toshiro Yoshiaki/Shoto
The characters of Daito and Shoto are two of the toughest to cast. There’s no real actors that stand out. The best path to go then is to cast little known actors among the general public. Both actors have few credits to their names. Lee is mostly recognized as the character Minho from The Maze Runner films. Oka is a little bit more well-known among the nerdverse as Hiro Nakamura from the television show Heroes. In this instance the difference in age (Lee is twenty-eight and Oka is forty) could work to the film’s advantage. There’s nothing that says all the main characters categorically have to be teenagers. You’re never going to have a perfect adaptation (although The Martian came close) and some creative license must be taken. Ostensibly both characters are billed as “brothers” although neither has ever met in real life. The age difference demonstrates that you don’t have to be brothers by blood to be considered brothers. It’s my sincere hope that Spielberg really cultivates the brotherhood aspect of their relationship. Daito and Shoto were a little underdeveloped in the novel, so here’s hoping Spielberg can flesh the characters out a little more for the film.
Tom Cruise as Nolan Sorrento
Sorrento’s character in Ready Player One is the epitome of a corporate asshat. He’s the public face of Innovative Online Industries, the multinational corporation looking to win the contest and gain control of the OASIS. (IOI wants to charge the public to use the OASIS and essentially turn it into an elitist entity for the 1%). Slick, well polished, and completely ruthless, he’s the kind of guy that will smile to your face all the while holding the butcher knife behind his back. There’s no one slicker and more debonair than Tom Cruise. His star power is unprecedented (wacky Scientology not withstanding) and he’s experienced quite the comeback in recent years. Cruise has already demonstrated he can play slick and slimy with his Oscar nominated turn in Jerry MacGuire. He’s also worked with Spielberg in the past (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) so his connection with Spielberg is only about one step down from Hanks’. And anyone who doesn’t believe he can play a bad guy has never seen Collateral.
Although oddly Spielberg recently said he wouldn’t reference his own movies in Ready Player One, I have full confidence in his ability to assemble a perfect cast. Whether or not he takes my suggestions…well…that’s another story.
You can follow me as Darth Gandalf on Twitter @cocook1978