It’s My Movie! – The Joys and Tribulations Of Fan Casting

There was a scene in one of the last episodes of Sex And The City where Charlotte and Anthony  are talking about their friendship.  He tells her in the movie of his life she would be played by Barbara Parkins, circa Valley of The Dolls.  (For those of you under the age of 40, look that up on the IMDB.)  Then he said he would be played by Colin Farrell.

Charlotte: Do you think you look like Colin Farrell?

Anthony:  It’s my movie!

This little snippet of a scene seems to sum up what many fans feel when they’re fan casting.  Fan casting, of course, is when fans pick which actors they think are the best choices to play beloved characters from beloved books.  It’s as if Hollywood is casting the story of their lives, there’s such a possessive feeling over who gets cast.

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE to fan cast.  I go on web sites or attend online chats to give my ideas and hear other people’s suggestions.  It’s fun.  At this point, the movie truly IS our movie.  The one in our heads that only we can see.

Everyone does it while reading books.  I’d venture to guess a lot of writers fan cast while writing their own books.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown my work to someone and they suggest actors who they think would be perfect to play the characters in the movie version.  People have the compulsion to fan cast even when something hasn’t been published yet.

Fan casting isn’t anything new.  When the book Gone With The Wind came out in 1936, people all over the country had an opinion over who should be cast in the major roles.  In that instance, one of the fan choices–Clark Gable as Rhett Butler–actually made it into the movie.  But virtually no one wanted Vivien Leigh as Scarlett.  She wasn’t well-known.  She was BRITISH.  How could she play the quintessential Southern belle?

We all know how that turned out.

This past week has been a busy one for fan casters.  Finally, fans of The Hunger Games trilogy are starting to get official casting news for the second movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  (I could write a whole blog post about the studio giving the movie that clunky title.)  The first two actors cast–Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee and Amanda Plummer as Wiress–are, almost everyone agrees, phenomenal choices.

That’s where agreement among fans pretty much ended.  We started getting some not-so-official news.  Sam Claflin (Snow White and The Huntsman) was announced as the choice for Finnick Odair, hands-down the most popular character in the series after the heroine Katniss.  Mind you, there was only a “report” (i.e. this could be the real thing or a totally made-up story) saying he was going to be offered the role.

Many fans were pleased (myself included, I’ve seen him in a couple of things and he’s really good) but others were not so pleased.  So much so that some of the fan sites had to try to calm people down, reminding them that this was only a rumor.

Now it seems it was just a rumor.  Yet another entertainment news source reported he’s shooting a movie that would conflict with the shooting schedule of Catching Fire.  The people who wanted Claflin are bereft.  The people who didn’t want him are thrilled.  So now we wait for the next rumor, or the official announcement. No matter who is chosen, it’s certain to spark another intense controversy.

Shylah at the Hunger Games fan site Down With The Capitol wrote this hilarious piece about how entertainment reporters have been yanking fans’ chains these past couple of months with casting rumors.  She pretty much nails everyone’s frustration.

I would love to say that fan disagreements over casting are always completely harmless, but that’s not the case.  Soon after the release of The Hunger Games, some Twitter users expressed disappointment that the characters Rue and Thresh were played by black actors, even though that’s how they were described in the book.  Some of the comments were blatantly racist.  This is the worst example of fan casting.

Fortunately, most of the time it is harmless–comments that so-and-so can’t play a part because his hair is the wrong color, or she’s too tall, or he’s just not how they pictured the character while reading the book. There were some people who even complained about the CAT cast in The Hunger Games.  I was going to congratulate them for satirizing fan disappointment, then realized they weren’t kidding.

People are so reluctant to let go of the movie inside their heads.  In the end, though, once the movie does come out, if the filmmakers have done their job, most of the controversy tends to fade away.  When Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss, there were a lot of naysayers.  I’ll admit it right now, I was one of them.  She didn’t fit the movie in my head.

It turns out, she didn’t have to.  To me she is now and always will be Katniss.  In the movie on the screen.  Where it counts.

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