Who would you get to play your lead role?

Paramount raised eyebrows a few years’ back over the choice of Tom Cruise to play the film part of Jack Reacher – the enigmatic creation of Lee Child.

Standing at five-seven it’s not hard to see why the choice of Cruise puzzled many people, particularly when you consider the larger-than-life ex-MP he brought to the screen is a six-five monolith of raw muscle. It could be the kind of miscasting on a scale of handing Australian actor George Lazenby a kilt and asking him to play James Bond in the 1969 version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

Amazon got it right when they plucked out Alan Ritchson to bring Child’s creation to life in its award-winning series. It’s now hard to read the books without thinking of Ritchson.

The author himself is diplomatic on the subject. Here’s what Child had to say about it: “Obviously, Tom Cruise doesn’t match the physical description of Reacher in the books… but the movie is not going to match the book anyway. More than that though, which actor does match Reacher physically? What people forget is that Tom Cruise is quite possibly the best actor of his generation.”

No argument there. It’s great to see the Reacher franchise getting the TV/movie exposure it deserves – no matter who takes the lead role.

The debate, however, serves a wider purpose. It got me thinking who we, as authors, would wish to see cast in the role of bringing our hero/heroine to the big screen.

Yeah, I know chance would be a fine thing – but bear with me! There’s a serious side to thinking about your characters. Who do they resemble? What traits from well-known people have we used to conjure up an image for our readers? Have we thought about famous actors or actresses at any stage during the construction of our stories?

Whether we admit to it or not, portrayals on the big screen shape forever the way we think of and remember stories. An interesting example of this is Rod Steiger who turned down the title role in the 1970 film Patton. As a result, whenever we think of Patton, there’s only one image that springs to mind – that of George C. Scott, whose performance is still ranked as one of Hollywood’s finest.

An interesting aside to this is that two years after Patton was released, Steiger was in pole position for the lead in The Godfather but spoiled his chances by refusing the part of Don Corleone (taken by Marlon Brando, his co-star in On the Waterfront 18 years earlier) and insisting that he play the part of the younger son Michael (taken by Al Pacino, who later turned down Star Wars!).

While we’re on the subject, here’s a few more what-could-have-beens:

Will Smith turned down The Matrix (Keanu Reeve).

Alec Baldwin turned down The Fugitive (Harrison Ford)

Melanie Griffith turned down Thelma and Louise (Susan Sarandon)

Michael Madson turned down Pulp Fiction (John Travolta)

Robert Redford turned down The Graduate (Dustin Hoffman)

Mel Gibson turned down Gladiator (Russell Crowe)

John Travolta turned down Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks)

Hugh Jackman turned down Casino Royale (Daniel Craig)

Clare Danes turned down Titanic (Kate Winslett)

Susan Dey turned down Grease (Olivia Newton-John)

Tom Selleck & Nick Nolte turned down Raiders of the Lost Ark (Harrison Ford).

Believe me the list is pretty endless. I like the multiple rejections list which includes Richard Gere, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, and Arnold Schwarzenegger all turning down the Die Hard role made famous by Bruce Willis.

Or what about Daryl Hanna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, and Molly Ringwald leaving a clear field for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?

Okay, I’m starting to show off a bit, but let me finish this section with my favourite story. Apparently, Tom Cruise was lined up to take the lead in the 2010 CIA action film Salt but when Angeline Jolie got wind of the story, she muscled in. The script was rewritten to change the gender of the lead character from Edwin Salt to Evelyn Salt!

Imagine that happening to one of your novels?

Let’s go back full circle. Who would you want to play your lead character in a film or television adaptation?

I’ve had a bit of fun trying to dream up actors and actresses for roles in recent books I’ve read. See what you think.

The Mel Comley books about policewoman Lorne Simpkins would make a great television series featuring British actress Suranne Jones.

Matt Hilton’s hero, Joe Hunter, deserves someone of the stature of Jason Statham or Hugh Jackman.

What about Gerard Butler for Stephen Leather’s Spider Shepherd?

I need help here. Give it a go – match an actor or actress with a character from your book or from a recent book you’ve read. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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