by A.M. Justice
We’re two weeks in to the new season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and I’m still feeling the love for this television adaptation of G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to take the best from the books and put it on screen, with enough new characters and plot streams to keep the avid readers on the edge of our seats. I wonder, will we get to see where Sansa is going? In my recollection, she disappears from the novel’s narrative after Petyr takes her from the Eyrie. And Jamie Lannister most certainly does not hook up with Bronn and ride off to rescue Myrcella from Dorne.
GOT works because the writing is so solid and the cast is packed with great actors playing great characters. The casting choices are spot on. Peter Dinklage is too handsome for Tyrion (in the book, Tyrion’s ugliness—a sign of his Targaryen blood—separates him from his exquisitely beautiful brother and sister even more than his dwarfism), but we can forgive Dinklage’s good looks because he so perfectly captures Tyrion’s empathy, intelligence, and pathos. And it’s not Gemma Whelan’s fault the GOT writers and producers robbed Asha Greyjoy of all her swashbuckling joie de vive when they changed her name to Yara and made her sober and dour for the television show. This is the single misstep taken by Benioff and Weiss: Asha is one of the few fun characters in the books; on the show Yara is just another pissed-off noble.
What about other casting choices when books became films? In the early Harry Potter movies, I was disappointed with Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. At first, Watson wasn’t at all convincing as the rule-bound teacher’s pet smart girl. It didn’t help that she was far too pretty for the role, when much is made of Hermione’s awkwardness and plainness in the early books. But as the films went on and the children playing Potter and friends grew up, Watson came to embody the character, and now I can’t imagine Hermione played by anyone else.
It’s been a while since I’ve been really incensed about a casting choice; I generally give film producers the benefit of the doubt. Back in the last century, when Neil Jordan picked Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise, of all people!) to play Lestat in his adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, my friends and I held forth for hours about how Top Gun boy could not possibly capture the blond, sophisticated, French allure of Lestat. Then we saw the movie and Cruise blew our objections away.
One adaptation that did get my blood boiling was the SciFi miniseries Legends of Earthsea. Ursula LeGuin is my literary idol, and Ged, the central character of the Earthsea Cycle, was my first love. When I was young, Ged epitomized what a man ought to be—intelligent, courageous, and loaded with self-awareness. (Luckily I found a man with those qualities, and I married him.) Ged is also not white, a choice LeGuin made because she wanted to create fantasy and science fiction worlds populated by diverse peoples, to better reflect the world we live in. The fact that the majority of Earthsea’s population looks like they come from earth’s Southern Hemisphere was a deliberate and important choice she made. SciFi tossed that aside and picked blue-eyed Shawn Ashmore (better known as Iceman in the X-Men movies) to play Ged. Not only was Ged white in the TV miniseries, he was too young, at least for the episode based on Tombs of Atuan. In the book, Ged is twice Tenar’s age. He mentors and rescues her, but he does not become her lover until much later, when they’re both adults and social equals. By casting a young, white man as Ged and turning the story into a romance, the producers undermined the entire spirit of LeGuin’s masterwork. Or, in her words, they wrecked it.
The next big casting brouhaha surrounds the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. I’ll say right off: the idea of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm doesn’t bother me at all. Sure, he and blonde Sue Storm are siblings, but step-sibs or half-sibs or adoption are all perfectly plausible explanations for their phenotypic differences. It’s Kate Mara who worries me. After watching her smolder and brass her way through House of Cards, I can’t quite see her playing a Grace Kelly–type ice queen. But, note to Hollywood, when The Woern Chronicles are adapted for the screen, Mara would be the perfect actress to play Vic.