Star Trek Chris Pine

Weekend Roundtable: Replacing an Icon

Alden Ehrenreich has his work cut out for him taking over the role of Han Solo. Stepping into the shoes of an iconic movie or TV character is a tricky proposition that risks the wrath of fans if not captured perfectly. This week, we’ll look at some examples where the gambit paid off.

Shannon Nutt

Some roles are so iconic, it’s hard to think of anyone else playing the character. Such was the case when Clayne Crawford was hired to take over the role of Martin Riggs on TV’s ‘Lethal Weapon‘. Mel Gibson is so identified with the loose cannon LAPD officer that no one could ever replace him, right? Wrong. Despite not looking the part, Crawford totally owned the role of Riggs from the pilot episode forward, giving viewers a multi-dimensional portrayal over two TV seasons that actually surpassed what Gibson delivered in four feature films.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Due to some reported bad behavior on the set (and perhaps a little influence from an unhappy co-star), Clayne’s ‘Lethal Weapon’ contract was not picked up by Warner Bros. and he will not be part of Season 3. It’s a shame all around, because ‘Lethal Weapon’ was starting to feel like something really special, and I think word was finally getting out that Crawford’s performance was a career-making part. Now, unfortunately, it looks like it may have been a career-ending one. I hope not, because Martin Riggs or no Martin Riggs, Clayne is one heck of a good actor.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

“Next time, baby.” That quick line delivered by Terrence Howard in ‘Iron Man‘ winked towards the debut of War Machine in the sequel. Part of that panned out. War Machine did indeed make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in ‘Iron Man 2‘, although it would be with Don Cheadle inside the armor.

All sorts of rumors have swirled around the reasons why: Howard being a difficult presence on the set, excessive financial demands, delivering a substandard performance that was a challenge to cut around. I can’t say for certain why the change was made (or why Howard was supposedly offered a tiny fraction of his contracted payday), but Marvel certainly traded up when recasting the role of Rhodey. Aside from being a more talented actor in general, Cheadle’s more commanding presence better suits the part, and that greater authority is balanced with more charisma to boot.

Josh Zyber

Every actor who has played James Bond to date has brought something special and unique to the role, and I can appreciate all their efforts. The only one who seemed to struggle was George Lazenby, whose one-shot appearance in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘ was unfairly knocked simply for not being Sean Connery at a time when audiences weren’t ready to accept anyone else. Roger Moore broke away by tailoring the character to his own strengths and personality, and though the camp in his movies didn’t age well later, he was very much the right Bond for his era, just as the darker and more hard-edged Daniel Craig has been for ours.

Still, I think that Chris Pine taking over as James Kirk in the ‘Star Trek‘ reboot and its sequels is the best example of recasting a major character like this. The actor was basically a nobody with only a handful of minor TV and movie appearances before J.J. Abrams hired him for the lead in the 2009 film. He’s been terrific in the franchise, embodying the character’s charisma and cockiness and magnetism without directly imitating William Shatner (which would have quickly lapsed into parody). I can’t imagine anyone else doing it as well.

Pine didn’t have as much luck rebooting the Jack Ryan series. We’ll see how well John Krasinski does with his own attempt this fall.

Your Turn

What are your picks for the best (or worst) actors taking over iconic roles?

We’re taking Monday off for the Memorial Day holiday but will return on Tuesday. Have a great long weekend, everyone!

33 comments

  1. njscorpio

    The only thing I liked about ‘Terminator Genisys’ was Emilia Carlke. With trying to cast a Sarah Connor who is essentially an alternate timeline version of the character, they could have fallen into the trap of trying to CGI a youngish Linda Hamilton’s face onto another actress, or some other weird technique to make a variation of the actress and not of the character. Instead we get a strong female lead who reflects the different charater’s history. Plus, she totally won me over with her delivery of the requisite “come with me if you want to live!”

  2. Jon

    Michael Gambon taking on Dumbledore after RIchard Harris died. Gambon wisely decided to do his own thing and didn’t ape Harris’ performance. Nothing against Harris but I ended up preferring Gambon’s take on the character.

    • Chaz Dumbaugh

      Wish I could agree here, he was nothing like the books and Harris was exactly how I interpreted the character from those. Gambon got all angry and weird and nothing like Dumbledore……I didnt hate him by any stretch but Harris easily outshone him in just his two movies, he was exactly how Dumbledore was supposed to be, mild, yet strong and full of heart…..Gambon just didnt show that to me much at all

      • Dave M

        Absolutely. My pick to replace him would have been Peter O’ Toole. He even says the name Potter at the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia. I later found out that O’Toole was Harris’ family’s pick of who to replace RH, but I imagine the producers felt like O’Toole wasn’t as likely to make it for the rest of the series.

        • Joshua P. Christie

          I remember there were even rumors at the time of Christopher Lee being up for consideration which would have been cool to see.

    • William Henley

      What is interesting is how you can have the same actor play the character so differently under different directors – look at Warwick Davis playing Professor Flitwick. Talk about a change between the first two movies and the rest of the series!

      I liked Gambon’s take on Dumbledore – it turned Dumbledore from a loving grandfather figure into a creepy eccentric, which actually worked. I liked both actors, and I can live in a world where we have both.

  3. Pedram

    I know this won’t be a popular sentiment, but I liked Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. He also did his own take on the character without just trying to emulate what came before, and I liked that take.

    • Chaz Dumbaugh

      Yeah it isnt one, but I agree. I never grew up watching the original Wonka much so i dont have this big place in my nostalgia heart for Wilder. I liked Tim Burtons version of this movie much better actually and I’m REALLY in the minority on that one, if I watch this story, its Tim and Depp’s version, its kooky and weird and different while still being true to the story as I knew it, but like I said, I was never a big fan of Wonka or Wilder from back in the day so my perspective is quite different

    • William Henley

      I agree with this one as well. I never cared much for the original one. In terms of quality, Burton’s is a much better production. In terms of actors, Wilder is brilliant, but Depp just brings it. I think my only complaint about Depp is that he is playing Depp in a Burton movie – which isn’t bad, it is just that it feels like this is a cookie cutter character from any Burton movie. That said, I LOVE it. So Wilder was brilliant, Depp was genius.

  4. photogdave

    Tom Hardy taking over as Mad Max. I’m a huge fan of the original trilogy but I loved Fury Road just as much. I really believed him as Max and didn’t find myself missing Mel at all.

    Donald Glover as Lando appears to be inspired casting. I haven’t seen the movie (and seriously considering giving it a theatrical miss) but from the trailers, Glover looks to be the best thing going for it!

    • Bolo

      I liked ‘Fury Road’. Not as much as everybody else on the internet, but I still liked it. However, I thought Hardy’s performance was easily the weakest element. It felt like he kept throwing ticks and quarks at his performance but never settled on an angle with the character, even speaking in different voices throughout the film.

      When I heard about them getting the Mad Max series off the ground again, I was rooting for Eric Bana to get the role. Looking back, I still think he would’ve been a better choice. I found Theron’s performance in the film was more what I want from the Max character, but each his own.

      • photogdave

        I actually agree with your points. It took two viewings for me to “get” Hardy’s performance and start to really appreciate it.
        I think Bana would have been fantastic. Very different but still good. Maybe a different script would have been more suitable for him.

        • Bolo

          If they did another sequel, it would be interesting to see how Hardy comes at the role. I remember reading that Hardy felt bad about giving Miller a lot of attitude during the filming of ‘Fury Road’. When he saw the finished product it became more clear why Miller was asking for what he was asking for, it just didn’t make sense to him at the time.

  5. Bolo

    Technically, ‘Shaft’ (2000) is a sequel to the original trilogy, with Sam Jackson playing a different character in present day. He’s the nephew to the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, who appears in the film) and has the same name. But for all intensive purposes, it’s the same role.

    The obvious choice probably would’ve been Wesley Snipes. Snipes is handsome and could bring the same smooth charm as Roundtree. But Jackson made the role his own. They tailored it to his shouty hot-tempered persona and the results were a lot fun but still managed to feel like a faithful update of the spirit of the original.

  6. Timcharger

    Yeah Josh, you know an iconic character, who stars in a movie opening this weekend who isn’t Alden Ehrenreich, was recast too. He was recast in the previous film. While he got partial credit in the film prior to that, Joonas Suotamo got full credit in the Last Jedi. You should see this film. You can appreciate how the Rian treated this iconic character with respect. It would to distasteful to say, have Captain Kirk recast and only to use him for a joke to deep fry tribbles for a snack. Such an iconic character would have more to do right? You need to see how this film replaced an icon so perfectly.

      • Timcharger

        I’m glad to know…
        that with Solo, this hairy iconic character gets some screen redemption from being shortchanged in the Force Awakens and emasculated in the Last Jedi.

        • NW,UK

          “You’re very brave…”

          “Warrgh ragh rumph” (Translated from Wookie as: “Shut your face, you patronizing old cow. Do it again, and I’ll pull your arms out of their sockets. I’ve been known to do that…”)

        • Timcharger

          I’m sooo glad to know…
          my last cinematic memories of Chewie are no longer of a bit part, chauffeur role for Rey and a blank straight man for Porg slapstick.

          Thank you Solo, Chewie holding a barbequed Porg drumstick isn’t how I will remember the big fella.

          Now if only a future Star Wars story can erase a milk addicted Luke from my memory banks.

  7. EM

    Film: Max Schreck as Count Orlok in 1922’s Nosferatu → Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula in 1979’s Nosferatu

    Television: William Hartnell as Doctor Who’s first Doctor (series 1–4) → Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor (series 5–7)—setting the stage for a lengthy parade of successors

    Film to television and back again: Batman’s Catwomen Julie Newman (seasons 1–2), Lee Meriwether (’66 feature film), and Eartha Kitt (season 3)

      • Dave M

        Dalton was a great Bond, I think he was just playing Bond at a time when the character wasn’t aging with the times very well. But I love the scene in Living Daylights where he is at the carnival winning the stuffed animal for Olivia d’Abo, and his face as he fires the gun to win that toy is the same as it would have been to assassinate the head of Spectre. Great stuff. And I thought License to Kill was pretty good except for some of the goofy stunts at the end (like with the tractor trailers tilting on their sides and stuff).

  8. Bill

    Replacing an icon is close to sacrilege. Hollywood has become a mindless factory with almost no original ideas in its head. How long before some idiot decides to remake the original trilogy?

  9. Charles M

    Pamela Anderson made an excellent Rick Blaine in Barb Wire. Didn’t think anyone could top Humphrey Bogart’s performance, especially not her. I kid, I kid.

    Christopher Lee as Dracula. Before him Bela Legosi was synonymous with the role. Heath Ledger as the Joker. Robert DeNiro as Don Corleone.

    • photogdave

      I wouldn’t consider playing a younger version of a character to be “replacing” the original.
      Also, when Godfather II came out I don’t think enough time had passed for Brando’s Corleone to be considered iconic.
      I could be wrong though — I was just a toddler at the time!

      • Charles M

        I wasn’t alive yet. But I don’t think it needs to be around a long time. Godfather was acclaimed as soon as it was released. And Brando’s performance was lauded as a huge comeback. It must of been daunting for De Niro to follow on what Brando had done.

  10. theHDphantom

    Ewan McGregor taking over the Obi Wan Kenobi role for the Star Wars prequels was excellent casting. He was terrific for that role. If Disney does indeed make that Obi Wan movie, McGregor better be playing that part again.

  11. William Henley

    The Lost In Space Netflix reboot. Every character I love. Parker Posey is a brilliant choice, and I am perfectly okay for the rewrite in this character. Maxwell Jenkins also plays Will Robinson very well, and the character feels much more real and authentic than the original series. In fact, every single character in the reboot just seems to be better thought out and written.

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but I also liked Gary Oldman and Matt LeBlanc in the movie. Let’s be clear – the story and CGI were awful, Lacey Chabert was an awful Penny (I see what they were going for, it just didn’t work), William Hurt was unbelievable as John. Heather Graham brought an interesting perspective to Judy’s character, and her and Matt LeBlanc’s onscreen chemistry (or lack thereof), seems to be the best developed part of the movie. The rest of the cast was meh.

    To me, Batman is a character that has been done by many actors, and probably the most memorable recast for me is Michael Keaton. Talk about stepping into an iconic role and selling it. Huge fan of his take of Batman, and he pretty much set the tone for all actors who followed him.

  12. Nestor

    I really liked Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Prof. X and Magneto, but I just loved McAvoy and Fassbender in those roles.

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