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!
Whenever I talk about The Last of Us with someone, the conversation inevitably returns to what makes the game special: the desperation. Ammo is low, enemies actually defend their position effectively, and when you are hurt it impairs your fighting ability to a great extent. That desperation gives a player immediate stakes, and a greater desire to defend their NPC partner. As a result, Joel and Ellie were characters we cared about, and their relationship actually seemed to evolve as they survived together.
If the game is to become a movie, as has been announced, this central relationship will be a linchpin that the action, horror, and drama is built upon. Not just for fans, but for outsiders as well. Because Sam Raimi has talked about his involvement with this still-hypothetical film, plenty of names have been thrown around for who should portray the surrogate father/daughter combo and some of the choices haven’t been too inspired.
Perhaps this should be the venue for a fan-casting faux pas that permeates the fabric of the Internet: face casting. We are all willing to admit that Ellen Page looks a lot like Ellie (or, you know… vice versa), but she isn’t right for the part. For starters, she’s almost 30 years old. And while Andrew Lincoln of “The Walking Dead” has the prerequisite haggard eyes and beard to play Joel, it’s pretty unlikely that his AMC contract would even allow him to play such a specific character. Also, his American accent is atrocious sometimes. So while I think there are fantastic actors out there who look like characters, the performance and fit for the character comes first.
That out of the way, here are three potential Joels and three potential Ellies for infected folks to chew on.
1. Josh Brolin
He’s likely the frontrunner for the part, and there’s good reason. The versatility he shows in True Grit, Milk, and W. betrays the classic action hero looks and blue collar, tough guy squint that we also saw in Gangster Squad, Oldboy, and No Country for Old Men. The chief strength of Brolin is that he’s an actor who can appear at once intimidating and vulnerable.
That’s the complicated man Joel should be. While he’s physically capable of fighting and survival, his pain over the loss of his daughter and his dwindling empathy for other survivors are so palpable to us and to him that it takes Ellie to motivate him. Much like his other work, Brolin’s take on Joel would allow us to see his every failure and his every triumph in the subtlety of his lined face.
2. Elle Fanning
Easily the best performance in Super 8, including the adults, Fanning has a preternatural poise that makes her stand out from other actors her age. It wasn’t enough to convey fear and wonder at the strange happenings in J.J. Abrams’ ode to E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Fanning showed the very essence of a Spielbergian child character in her emotional independence.
And like Fanning’s princess from Maleficent Ellie is very much afraid and vulnerable, but she is also iron-willed. There is room for her to ebb and flow in the moments she can control her dread and those where she tries to deflect it through her precocious cussing and teenage cynicism. While it is always important for a character to appear strong, it’s just as important for the actor to let the cracks in the armor show so that we care.
3. Kiefer Sutherland
The chief concept of Joel, a man who has survived the ongoing erosion of society over the course of twenty years, is that he is too tired to be afraid anymore. He’s seen it all. His soul is weathered. And Sutherland would be a perfect fit for the role for this very reason. Both onscreen and off, Kiefer has endured a lot of miles. His increasingly creaky action machine Jack Bauer on “24,” while once a simple family man with a rough job, inevitably became the shadowy, coarse, broken shell that Joel is by the time he meets Ellie. And Sutherland himself has had real trouble, with his career stalling after a stint in jail over some DUI charges and not much choice but to go back to “24” despite clear signs he was done with it.
Kiefer Sutherland is a good actor. He’s able to take a simple role and lend real gravity to it, even in such lightweight fare like Stand By Me and The Three Musketeers. And if there’s one thing he has going for him that few do, he’s videogame-friendly. He’s voiced over a dozen game characters outside the 24 franchise, and would likely take on the project with more dignity than any Gerard Butler type.
4. Ariel Winter
While better known for her success on “Modern Family” as Alex, Winter has already cultivated a niche for herself within what her agents probably call “genre” material. She’s voiced Princess Perdita and Carrie Kelly in various animated DC comics movies, and she’s also ventured into video games with roles in some Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts releases. She’s also had a chance to build her more serious on-camera work with an early role in One Missed Call and a recurring character on the last year or so of “ER.”
Above all, Winter would project Ellie’s innocence. We can’t feel for a teenage girl when she kills a man for the first time unless she actually can show us how out of her depth and overwhelmed she is. Winter can do this. Even via only her voice, that element was present in The Dark Knight Returns, particularly when masquerading as a mutant gang member. And while horror and high drama are parts of her professional past, Winter could certainly use an updated outlet to show off her range.
5. Robert Downey, Jr.
Stick with me here. I understand that Downey is tiring of big action set-pieces, but I doubt he would hesitate to read for a character who is cursed with resilience. Because that’s who Robert Downey, Jr. is on the surface: a man we cannot give up on. Younger folks mostly know him as Tony Stark, but there was once a time when an attractive and energetic young comedian was covertly building a resume for the ages with a stint on SNL, smaller roles in high school and college comedies, and some surprising dramatic chops in a Charlie Chaplin biopic. Downey almost bristles now at his seemingly accidental new position as elder statesman of a billion-dollar franchise. He was much more focused on his smaller movies in the last few years such as The Judge.
I say all this because Joel is an interesting character for Downey to tackle. He’s the fledgling stoic action star with a devastating history and a desperate need to keep emotionally distant. That’s both sides of the Downey coin. While we’ve seen him dive through the tense action of the Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man movies, he’s also been interested in stories like Zodiac, Charlie Bartlett, and A Scanner Darkly, in which his trademark acerbic wit is applied as a veneer to cover his characters’ emotional weaknesses and addictions. Admit it, his Joel would be the most interesting by far.
6. Maisie Williams
This is kind of a no-brainer, and I’m not alone in that diagnosis. Folks involved with the project have mentioned her, and Williams herself has expressed enthusiasm for playing Ellie. It’s a role that she has been trained expertly to play.
Once merely the child picked to play plucky Arya Stark on “Game of Thrones,” Williams and her role have evolved into one of the most three-dimensional personalities to ever come out of a purely fantasy setting. She’s able to portray Arya as a moral hero while also balancing the post-traumatic bloodlust and aristocratic smugness that the character has built. Arya is still presented as a child by the show, while Williams has actually grown into a confident adult performer. That’s the type of convincing that you cannot bottle.
The similarities between Williams’ work and the character of Ellie aside, there’s also the matter of Ellie being used as a narrative device. Because she may be immune to the infection, she’s simultaneously the second lead character and the MacGuffin that launches the plot. Williams can keep the character from becoming a tool. Though her current gig often thrusts her into situations where her character’s identity or vulnerability prop up the plot, never does Williams rely on the mere application of fear or hate or naivet, that are expected of a child actor.
Agree? Disagree? More ideas? Let us know in the comments.