Yesterday it was announced that Stephen King's epic Dark Tower saga will be adapted into -- in an unprecedented move -- both a trilogy of feature films and a TV series by director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. As one might expect, the internet has been logjammed with the mixed emotions of geeks everywhere, delighted that King's beloved book series will finally hit the big and small screens, but frustrated that the director responsible for some of the most vanilla-white, middlebrow mush to come out of Hollywood in recent years -- and the hack scribe behind garbage like Batman and Robin and I Am Legend -- will be behind it. As much as I'd like to join this discussion, I'm already exhausted by it. So I'm choosing instead to focus on a more interesting (if equally fruitless) pursuit: who I would cast in this project.
As a longtime King fan, I'm pretty picky about which of the literary giant's books I think are masterpieces and which are...not. So I'll be completely honest up front and say that I think The Dark Tower falls somewhere in the middle. I find the first book, and much of what follows, to be suspenseful reads, but overall the series is uneven, its quality varying too much for me to regard it in the same light as such tight, explosive works as The Shining, The Dead Zone, Misery and so many of King's short stories. Yet The Dark Tower's very uneveness is what makes it ripe for adaptation. Because (and here's where the hate mail hits) there is room for improvement here. Blasphemous though this might sound to some, certain character arcs can be tightened, too-long scenes can benefit from streamlining, and visceral action beats could play even more brilliantly with the right choreography. (And, no, I don't think Howard and Goldsman are the people to do this, but, again, that's all been said elsewhere.)
So who would I choose to star in this epic? Here are my picks for The Dark Tower's five principal protagonists...
Roland Deschain (a.k.a. The Gunslinger) -- The archetypal hero at the center of this saga should be played by an actor, who, while well known, isn't so big a star that he'll overshadow the story. Since King has said the character is based on Eastwood's Man with No Name, it's probably best to go with the modern equivalent -- a grizzled, world-weary actor who throws himself fully into his roles, yet has a subtle sense of humor that will make us want to follow him on a long adventure. I'm torn between two names: Viggo Mortensen and Thomas Jane.
Eddie Dean (a.k.a. The Prisoner) -- A former drug addict and Roland's companion through Mid-World, Dean should be played by someone who has strong chemistry with the tough-as-nails Gunslinger, as well as an actor capable of channeling Dean's demons; a guy who can bring the crazy while remaining sympathetic. My choice may be an obvious one, but it's Ben Foster. (Hey, with 3:10 to Yuma he's already proven he can work in a western.)
Susanna Dean -- The role of Eddie's crippled, dual-personality-disorder-afflicted African-American wife calls for someone to play both the serious-minded 1960s Civil Rights activist Odetta Susannah Holmes and the psychotic Detta Susannah Walker. And yeah, since she's the main female protagonist we'll be following across three movies and at least one season of television, it wouldn't hurt if she was easy on the eyes. I could watch Zoe Saldana do just about anything, but she's also got the gravitas, the physical presence and the acting chops.
Jake Chambers -- The eleven-year-old sidekick to Roland is as tricky a role to cast as any child in this type of hard-edged tale. Jake's gotta be vulnerable but strong, innocent but wise, and display none of the contemporary precociousness that marks (and scars) most young performers. He may be a little bit old for the part of Jake, but I like what I've seen so far of Kodi Smit-McPhee's performance in Let Me In (where he looks young for his age). And he impressed with his work in the even darker The Road (where he was paired with one of my choices for Roland, Viggo Mortenson; so, come to think of it, he might invite fewer comparisons if partnered this time around with Thomas Jane). Having met him, however, I can attest that Smitt-McPhee is one skinny little tyke. Eat a few cheeseburgers, Kodi. Then let's talk.
Oy -- Last but not least, we have Oy, the "billy-bumbler", described by King as someone who looks "like a combination of badger, raccoon, and dog" and has a limited ability to speak. Oy's voice is described as "low and deep, almost a bark; the voice of an English footballer with a bad cold in his throat." It's just too tempting for me not to think of Ray Stevenson in this role.
As for who I would cast as the Man in Black and the Crimson King? Well, that's another article. But, hey, tell me who you would you go with!