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If 2013 had any lesson for Hollywood’s casting directors, it was this: You’re probably doing it wrong. There’s nothing new about the idea of fans complaining that [Actor A] won’t do a particular role the justice it deserves — just ask Michael Keaton, who’s probably still smarting from the reaction to his being named as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton‘s 1989 Batman — but this was the year where fans’ umbrage went over the top. Well, even more over the top than usual, perhaps.
While some casting announcements were met with excitement — step forward, Paul Rudd, who’ll play the lead in 2015’s Ant-Man, directed by Edgar Wright — and some with bemused indifference (Bradley Cooper as Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Rocket Raccoon? Vin Diesel as Groot in the same movie?), this was a year when the Internet realized that, hey, maybe a petition could ensure that the audience gets exactly the character it imagined when reading the book in the first place. To wit …
1. Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam in Fifty Shades of Grey: You might have thought that having EL James — author of the original novel series the Sam Taylor-Wood-directed movie is based on — announce the casting of the two lead roles would have dulled any negative reaction against the choices, but you’d have been very, very wrong. Hunnam and Johnson were, according to the mass hive mind of Fifty Shades fandom, entirely wrong for the parts — so much so that a petition was launched to have them replaced.
As it turned out, fans got half of their wish when Hunnam left the project, with sources claiming that the fan reaction had played a part in his decision (he was replaced by Jamie Dornan, late of ABC’s Once Upon a Time). Johnson continues to hang in there, presumably hardened by her experience with the all-too-early cancellation of Fox’s Ben & Kate.
2. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars: On first blush, the casting of Woodley and Elgort in the upcoming adaptation of John Green‘s YA novel about two teens in a support group who fall in love with each other seems perfectly sensible. Both are up-and-coming actors with affection for the source material, after all. What could go wrong? Oh, that’s right — the Internet. (Curiously, Woodley was reportedly also up for the female lead in Fifty Shades of Grey at one point. Just imagine the outrage singularity that could have emerged had she won that role.)
Green actually took to Tumblr to defend both actors. “Novelists do not cast movies, so these were not my decisions (although I did have a lot of input),” he wrote. “I’m defending them because I think they’re both perfect for their parts (and I’d tell you if I felt otherwise). … If the movie works, you’ll sit down in the theater and you won’t say, ‘Oh look it’s Shailene Woodley,’ or, ‘Oh, look, it’s Tris from Divergent.’ You’ll say, ‘Holy wow Hazel Grace.’ “
3. Gal Gadot in Man of Steel 2: If anything can be said to comfort poor Gal Gadot about the online reaction to her being cast as the first cinematic Wonder Woman in the character’s history (amazingly, there’s never been a Wonder Woman on the big screen before now, despite the character having been around for more than 70 years) it’s this: It’s not you — no-one would have satisfied the fans on this one.
Of course, that didn’t stop some fans from complaining about Gadot personally — that she was too skinny, too weak-looking, not busty enough, all manner of ridiculous complaints. Her previous experience, as well, came into question: Could someone who’s appeared in the Fast & Furious franchise really be an Amazonian princess, some wanted to know. (The answer is, of course, “Probably. Why not?”) Gadot, for her part, seems to be taking such complaints in stride, saying in a recent interview that she represents “the Wonder Woman of the new world.” Take that, fanboys.
4. Ben Affleck in Man of Steel 2: The response to Gadot’s casting was nothing compared to what followed the news that Ben Affleck would be playing Bruce Wayne and his more famous alter ego in the 2015 follow-up to this summer’s Superman reboot. Whether it was concern over his age, his looks or his past as Marvel’s Daredevil and boyfriend to Jennifer Lopez, it appeared as if the fan knives were out for the Argo director and star (There was, of course, a petition to have him dropped from the movie).
What was truly entertaining about the Affleck casting wasn’t the backlash, but the backlash to the backlash, with former Batmen Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer coming out in favor of the news, alongside such other celebrity boosters as Joss Whedon and Matt Damon.
Studios should take note for the future: The best way to respond to fan upset isn’t to ignore it or capitulate to it, but instead try to drown it out with a carefully planned counter-assault fueled by celebrity power. After all, who would you rather listen to? Anonymous Internet Complainer or George Clooney telling you to cool down and that everything’ll be OK?
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