Casting Call

Five Actors Who Should Play Iron Fist

Iron Fist

In this series, we speculate on what actors would be the perfect choice to play an upcoming character, or what type of character a particular actor is best suited for. Feel free to unilaterally agree with all our picks voice your opinion in the comments!

Marvel’s Jessica Jones” is here! And I must say that the casting is spot-on, just as it was for “Daredevil.” And we already have our Luke Cage appearing, so he’s all primed for his own show. Isn’t it strange that Netflix and Marvel already have “Daredevil” season 2 figured out and shooting, yet they haven’t even announced casting or production details on their take of Iron Fist?

This is troubling, but it’s understandable. Daredevil’s origin can be explained pretty easily, and Jessica Jones’ entire superhuman existence is a mere handwave in the face of her current situation. But Iron Fist is a difficult mechanic to convey in this gritty, real-world setting that the Marvel-Netflix partnership has established.

For those of us who are unfamiliar, Iron Fist is also known as Daniel Rand, who trained in the mystical martial arts of K’un Lun, a hidden world where supernatural powers are possible through the harnessing and focusing of chi. Rand becomes Iron Fist when he plunges his fists into a brazier containing the flaming heart of a dragon, and now he can focus his chi to increase his strength, speed, imperviousness to pain, and make his fists indestructible. Rand is initially on a mission to avenge his parents, who died in an expedition to find K’un Lun and were betrayed by their business partner.

So, yeah. That’s going to look a little weird. I imagine the Netflix-Marvel team will try to connect Rand’s mastery of martial arts with the mysterious ninja clan The Hand, who we’ve already glimpsed in “Daredevil.” But the big question is who should play Daniel Rand?


1. Ray Park

This would be the greatest comeback in media history. Park was originally set to play Rand in an Iron Fist film over ten years ago that died in pre-production. Certainly, after such high-profile work as Darth Maul and Snake Eyes, Park is ready for the brutal level of fight choreography that the role demands. Of course, he’s also ready for everyone to forget that he was Toad in that first X-Men film.

I don’t see that Park’s age should be a problem (we should all be so lucky to look like that at 41), but his acting might not carry enough clout for the dramatics that these Netflix shows are aiming for.

Garrett Hedlund by Gage Skidmore 2

2. Garrett Hedlund

More the traditional approach to the character, Hedlund has his stylish action chops on display in Tron: Legacy, as well as his gritty, street-level vigilantism cred from Four Brothers. Since his days as the new player on The Grid, his career has taken a quieter direction in Coen Brothers quirk, period dramas, and… um… the recently scathed Pan as a young sailor Hook.

Hedlund’s definitely in a position to reinvent himself from the character he’s most famous for, and that’s done a world of good for our new Daredevil Charlie Cox after his run on “Boardwalk Empire.” And what’s more, Hedlund can definitely hone in on Danny Rand’s brooding disconnection with his father’s legacy and the intense training that he’s invested his whole life towards. We also know what kind of figure he would cut in that outfit, and it’s pretty impressive even without the light-cycle.

Korea Lee Byunghun APSA Awards 08 (14335929535)

3. Byung-hun Lee

There has been a large online push for Marvel/Netflix to cast an Asian-American actor in the role of Iron Fist, largely because of the Asian mysticism and ’70s kung-fu film inspiration behind his origin. I think this would be a great idea, since it would add to the character’s conflict. Deciding to train and harness his chi would represent the character reconnecting with his cultural roots, and eventually when coming back to America to face his enemies (and his life) he will be torn between the monk-like existence he knows and the grounded, dirty, crime-fueled NYC that we know from “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.”

Lee would be a perfect choice in terms of martial arts ability and a monk-like minimalism to his acting. As Storm Shadow in the GI Joe movies (opposite Ray Park, oddly) he was a cipher, but with some good dialogue and good co-stars to bounce off of this could translate well into Rand’s laid back, zen approach to life that we’ve frequently seen in the comics. And though Terminator: Genisys was not exactly a breakout performance for Lee as the new T-1000, he was way more interesting than Jai Courtney.

Ben Foster by Gage Skidmore

4. Ben Foster

Yeah, I know. He was Angel in that one really bad X-Men sequel that was made by a totally different company. But I’d like to see some acting out of him as a Marvel character. Foster has transformed himself so many times that he’s the unsung character-actor equivalent of a Christian Bale. While he can be clean-cut and exude a wounded vulnerability, such as in The Messenger, he can also be a goofball object of ridicule (like his Spacker Dave take in the Thomas Jane Punisher), a pants-wettingly scary psychopath in Alpha Dog, or a dusty western outlaw in 3:10 to Yuma. He can be everything.

Imagine Foster as the supremely disciplined, stoic kung-fu warrior who is suddenly thrust into the ruthless fight against the remnants of Kingpin’s syndicate…maybe one that is presided over by his parents’ former partner and killer? We could watch the coiled spring explode and some brutal fight scenes ensue. Plus we could even watch as a friendship with Luke Cage softens his caustic social identity and makes him grow as a character. There’s so much that could be packed into Foster’s fist… sorry. I had to.


5. Steven Yeun

I think this is my personal pick. Yeun has always been a fan favorite as Glenn on “The Walking Dead,” and I think it’s because of his ability to convey empathy in even the wordless moments between characters with little in common. His ability to land a smartass comment certainly helps his charm as well, with his opening words on the show being, “Hey dumbass!”

This is Rand all over, a guy who can appear somehow mystically wise on certain things and comically nonchalant with others. On top of that, Yeun has something special that I think the folks pushing for an Asian American Danny are looking for: he’s firmly planted in the “all-American boy” category of actor types, which is important. Rand must find the K’un Lun culture and fighting dragons and using magic aspect of his character to be new and somewhat alien. Like Luke Skywalker before him, he has to find these things exciting and jaw-dropping so that we will too. And Yeun is perfect for that.

Agree? Disagree? More ideas? Let us know in the comments.


About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.