Six Examples of Clueless Miscasting

When the right actor meets the right role the final outcome can be an extraordinary alchemy. Witness Daniel Day Lewis’s recent Oscar-winning turn as Abe Lincoln. But sometimes, no matter how talented the performer, no amount of make believe can make up the difference if he or she just don’t fit the part.

Some miscastings are legendary: John Wayne as Genghis Kahn in The Conqueror; Madonna as a missionary in Shanghai Surprise; Clint Eastwood as a singer in Paint Your Wagon; Seth Rogan as a super hero; and Keanu Reeves in almost anything. Others are a little more open to debate. So, into the heated exchanges revolving around Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels and Michael Keaton as Batman, I offer up these other possible other examples of mismatched talents.

Meryl Streep in Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Meryl Streep of course is such an exceptional chameleon that ever accusing her of being miscast is as close to sacrilege as one could nearly get on this topic. But, nevertheless, I make the argument in regard to her role as Suzanne Vale, a messy and messed-up druggie starlet, in this big screen comedy based upon Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical novel. Streep is just too intelligent of an actress and too together as a big screen personage (and, frankly, a little too old; Streep was 41 at the time of filming) to be totally believable as this loveable loser. Were the film being made today, Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes would be the perfect choice…and Streep could take on the mother role originally portrayed by Shirley MacLaine. I demand a remake!

Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Jason Reitman’s stinging satire of tobacco lobbyists is a very astute and very funny movie. But, along with its pointed commentary about politics and the media, Thank You is also the story of a father and son slowly reconnecting. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts (which, according to Eckhart, included living with the young actor who plays his son in the film for a few weeks before production began), the never married, childless Eckhart was never completely believable as a dad and it hurt the film’s overall effectiveness. Such is the plight of some actors. Women grow up with their nurturance encouraged, they play with dolls and babysit in their teens. Men, by and large, don’t find their inner parent until they become fathers themselves. And it’s possible that Eckhart’s lack of this real-life connection undermined his rapport with his onscreen son.

Dennis Haysbert in Love Field (1990)

Love Field, starring an excellent Michelle Pfeiffer as an emotionally reserved and emotionally damaged woman with a deep fixation on John and Jackie Kennedy, is a wonderful and touching film. Unfortunately, adding additional elements to the film were missed with the casting of Dennis Haysbert as the male lead. Basically a road movie, the film has Pfeiffer’s quiet ’60s housewife impulsively departing Texas to attend President Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, DC, in 1963. Along the way she is joined by an African-American man and his young daughter. Haysbert — now best known today as the TV spokesman for Allstate Insurance — is a very good actor but is too distinguished, too regal, for this role. Had an actor who projected a greater sense of danger or unease played the role, new aspects of the film’s message could have been revealed such as the emotional and physical risk that Pfeiffer’s character was taking in befriending the man in the first place. Haysbert allegedly replaced Denzel Washington just before filming began. We are left to wonder what could have been.

Demi Moore in Ghost (1990)

Easily the best and most successful role of her career, Moore is actually quite fine in this blockbuster film. She taps into levels of emotions that we have never seen her play before — or since. And her practically 3D tear ducts are a worthy addition as well to the film’s lingering nostalgia. Unfortunately, Moore has never conveyed a great deal of warmth or vulnerability on screen (or off) and one is left to wonder how much more compelling another actress (Sandra Bullock, comes to mind), better at portraying unguarded and more emotionally open, might have been in the role.

Kevin Spacey in Beyond the Sea (2004)

Kevin Spacey was 45 years old when he played pop singer Bobby Darrin, who died at age 37, in the biopic Beyond the Sea. And not since 34-year-old Norma Shearer played Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” in the ’30s have we been asked to so fully suspend belief in regard to an actor’s real-life age and what they were attempting to portray on screen. Occasionally, such age regression can be pulled off (Salma Hayek did a great job in Frida) and sometimes it just doesn’t work (Striesand as a teenager in Yentl). Playing Darrin was apparently a life-long dream of Spacey’s (he also directed and co-wrote the screenplay) but, to do true justice to the material, he should probably have relinquished the role to another performer or at least split the role between himself, for the latter years, and a second player for the early years. As it is now, this critical flaw (much like Martin Short attempting to play a toddler in 1994’s Clifford) overwhelms and undermines the rest of the project.

Madonna in Evita (1990)

Eva Peron seemed to have been the originator of blond ambition, so when the supreme pop princess Madonna was slated to play her in the long-delayed film adaption of the hit Broadway musical, synergy was assumed. Unfortunately, the Material Girl, though in fine voice for the film’s songs, failed to convey any of the real Eva’s steely determination and naked drive. Therefore, Peron’s ascent to icon status in turbulent Argentina rang hollow. The question remains why did M. make the choices she did? Why did she hold back? Did she worry about playing such a divisive character? And, if so, since when has Madonna ever worried about being likable?