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John Cho Getty Images.jpg

What’s Your Favourite Piece of Fan Casting?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 24, 2018 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 24, 2018 |

John Cho Getty Images.jpg

Spend enough time on the internet and you’ll find a fan casting for every actor and every role. The fandom practice of imagining fantasy casts for projects old, new and impossible is as much a part of the fabric of fan life as cosplay and dirty fanfic. Half the fun in fandom is its speculative nature. Fanfiction allows you to reimagine your favourite characters and worlds, stretching far beyond canon and going where the creators often feared to tread. Cosplay combines craft with performance and puts the fan squarely in the driver’s seat, allowing them to fully embody their heroes (and villains). Fan art adds images where they were previously absent, and the fan cast breathes life into the imagined.

For many, fan casting is a simple tool to provide a clearer mental image of these characters. It can be a hell of a lot easier to place a familiar face in the role of, say, Crowley and Aziraphale from Good Omens, than the compose a figure from mere description. Fans can often get very attached to their own casting, to the point where, when adaptations are greenlit and other actors are brought in, the new reality simply can’t live up to the fantasy. I should know: I’ve been there.

Fan casting can be its own form of fandom catharsis, a way to correct perceived mistakes and stretch beyond the forced limitations of Hollywood. There was no reason Grindelwald had to be played by Johnny Depp beyond the studio’s stubborn insistence that he was no longer past his prime or appeal. Fans wanted someone who deserved that part, who could do it justice and be the villain so many had feared and been fascinated by for the past decade. If fan casting does nothing else, it reminds us that Hollywood can be so damn boring in how it does business.

Have you ever wondered why Idris Elba is seemingly present in every fan casting on the internet? I mean, beyond the commonly accepted reality that he is perfect and could play every role given to him? In a reasonable world, Elba would be the biggest star on the planet, dominating the most popular movies and embodying those iconic roles that actors dream of. If things were done properly, Elba’s role in the MCU wouldn’t be that of a second tier character in the Thor franchise. Talk of him being Bond wouldn’t be commonly accepted as just a fantasy.

As much as he is a stellar actor and magnetic personality, Elba has also become the unofficial emblem for how Hollywood consistently fucks around its actors who aren’t white. Fans cast him in fantasy roles, from Dracula to Bond to Green Lantern, to remind the world that the entertainment world has options beyond its favourite white dudes who may or may not be named Chris. The flip-side of this is that Elba’s become somewhat fetishized, and it often seems like he’s the only black guy some white fans know (see also the people trying to fan cast Priyanka Chopra as Kamala Khan).

Still, there’s power to fan casting, and frankly, I think the internet gets it right more often than the industry these days. Frequently, it’s more imaginative and more often than not, way more diverse than anything Hollywood tries to push as the hot new thing. So, in celebration of that, here are two of my favourite pieces of fan casting.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Newt Scamander

I swear I didn’t pick this one just because I think Eddie Redmayne’s the worst actor alive.
My Harry Potter fandom was already waning by the time Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced, but I appreciated that this project offered an opportunity for the Potter world to expand and diversify beyond the original eight films and seven books. J.K. Rowling seemed determined to prove to anyone who would listen that Hogwarts was actually way more diverse than she portrayed it as. No, seriously, Dumbledore is gay, and there were totally LGBTQ students at Hogwarts. Look, there’s one student with a Jewish surname so that definitely counts too! AS noted by the Every Single Word video series, the entire franchise features only 0.47% of lines spoken by people of colour. Perhaps a prequel series, set in New York during the height of immigration to America and the Harlem Renaissance, would rectify that situation.

Before Eddie Redmayne was announced as Newt Scamander, Tumblr had put forward the fan casting of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, best known for Misfits. It seemed perfect, and highlighted exactly what fan casting can do, by placing an unexpected choice front and centre to remind audiences to look beyond their own narrow view-points. Stewart-Jarrett is an undeniable talent - he’s currently playing Belize in the Broadway revival of Angels in America - and one who could do wonders with a role like Newt. It seems such a waste to limit those opportunities (although we really should be used to it by now when it comes to Rowling).

John Cho as Spike Spiegel

I’ve basically been evangelizing this fan casting for months on Twitter, but it bears repeating. On one level, I never ever want an American studio to make a live-action blockbuster from Cowboy Bebop. The anime is just too good to warrant an adaptation that will inevitably water down everything that makes it so striking and vibrant. I’m sure it will happen at some point in the future, however, as the property is too popular and iconic a name to avoid someone green-lighting it. For the longest time, the film was supposed to happen with Keanu Reeves in the role of Spike, possibly the worst bounty hunter in the galaxy. Yet that never felt like a good fit. Sure, he had the look down and the more stoic moments, but Spike is also incredibly goofy, like a hero from a classic screwball comedy. Reeves could definitely play Vicious, but for Spike, my allegiance lies with Mr. John Cho.

Like Idris Elba, in a just world, John Cho would be a megastar of biblical proportions. How does the industry consistently deny these chances to an actor who is talented, intensely charismatic, has on-point comic timing and is that agelessly handsome? The online grassroots movement #StarringJohnCho drew attention to the absence of Asian-American actors on-screen through extensive fan casting, placing Cho’s image on the posters for the biggest films of the past several years. If you weren’t already a fan of Cho, the campaign left you wondering why the hell he wasn’t headlining every franchise on the slate.

If Hollywood is insistent on optioning Asian stories for the big screen, they cannot continue to do so with white people in all the roles. We saw how that worked out with Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. Of course, that isn’t the only reason Cho would make an impeccable Spike Spiegel. He already has the aesthetics down, we know he can do slapstick as well as he can nail emotional turmoil, and his charisma knows no bounds. Something just seems right in the mental image of John Cho, clad in a very battered suit with his hair in every direction, a corgi trailing him, scrambling across the galaxy in a way that seems both harried and effortlessly cool. Tell me I’m wrong!

Make sure you share your favourite pieces of fan casting in the comments!

(Header photograph of John Cho and his lovely face which refuses to age courtesy of Getty Images)

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.