It’s an interesting week for inspiring casting choices. “Breaking Bad” returned last night for its final season (split over two years), and many believe that Bryan Cranston as Walter White is one of the most inspired casting decision on television. If you only knew Cranston from “Malcolm in the Middle,” it’d be hard to disagree with the assessment. This week also marks the return of The Dark Knight Rises, and throughout the Dark Knight series, Christopher Nolan has absolutely wowed us with unconventional casting decisions that have worked marvelously, most notably Heath Ledger as The Joker. But Christian Bale — who was best known for his work on American Psycho at the time — was also an inspired casting choice, and while the verdict is still out, Tom Hardy as Bane and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman are fun, but not all together conventional casting choices, either. Both may be discussed come Oscar time this year.
Along those lines, I thought we’d take a look back at 10 other random, but inspired casting choices that ultimately worked even though they had no right to.
Rodney Dangerfield as Ed Wilson in Natural Born Killers — A goofy stand-up comedian best known for “Take My Wife” jokes and silly 80’s comedies being cast as a sexual abusing dysfunctional father.
Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview with a Vampire — It still doesn’t seem like it should work, but somehow, it did. Despite the conventional good looks, I think there is something inherently creepy about Tom Cruise that helped to sell this role as the skeevy vamp.
Mike Myers as General Ed Fenech in Inglorious Basterds — A guy with practically zero dramatic work coming off a string of comedy disappointments after shuffling into family films takes on the role of a creepy soldier? Quentin Tarantino is one of the best at unconventional casting that works, and here he demonstrates it again.
Kelsey Grammer as The Beast in The X-Men — The guy from “Cheers and “Frasier” as a big blue mutant? It’s all in the Shakespearean voice.
Val Kilmer as Madmartigan in Willow — At the time, Val Kilmer was just the guy from Top Gun and Real Genius being hired to play a warrior in a fantasy film about a dwarf protecting a baby against an evil queen. Sure! Why not? It worked, didn’t it?
Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose in Drive — Another comedian turned villain, Brooks proved to be as menacing as any experienced dramatic actor.
Paul Reubens as Amilyn in Buffy the Vampire Slayer — This was just fun stunt-casting — hiring Pee Wee Herman, the children’s personality caught masturbating in a theater — that ended up working much better than anyone might have anticipated.
Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank in The Truman Show — This was before anyone knew that Carrey had dramatic talent. He was the guy from The Mask and Ace Ventura and he was being asked not to mug for the camera for two hours. Few at the time thought it possible, but it’s still Carey’s second-best role next to the equally unconventional Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Jonah Hill and Charming Potato as Schmidt and Jenko in 21 Jump Street — A remake of an 80s television series starring the fat guy from Superbad and a guy who was probably still best known as the guy from the Step Up movies G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra when he was signed on. I’m still confounded by how much I liked the movie.
Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story — An obnoxious television personality best known for playing an annoying Santa Claus in the movies and an irritating pig in television paired with Tom Hanks in a kid’s movie. I still bristle when my son says he likes Buzz more than Woody, but props on the casting choice.