“Smiley” (1991) by the Smashing Pumpkins
“Smiley” (1991) by the Smashing Pumpkins
Every time it’s said that a novel, biography or a remake is gonna be made into a movie, I too excitedly join the rushes, pondering over who should be cast in each of the roles. Like everyone else, I have a ridiculous type of absolute right and authority in criticizing any casting choice that doesn’t meet my approval.
Remember that whole campaign against Daniel Craig being the new James Bond? ‘Daniel was too emotionally dark’. ‘Daniel was too serious’. And above all, ‘Daniel was too blonde’. Looking back now, Daniel has proven himself as maybe one of the top three Bonds and has reassured that 007 survive into the new century with modernity and poise. He pretty much silenced his critics, which I admit, I was one of. All I simply wanted was just a familiar face that wasn’t blonde – Hugh Grant, Dougray Scott, Clive Owen. My god. What the hell did I know? HUGH FUCKIN’ GRANT????!?!!
But Hollywood and I have agreed simultaneously. When Spielberg said he was gonna make ‘Lincoln’, Liam Neeson was cast first. I approved. Neeson has a patient leadership quality that a role like this requires – a quality, in fact, that he’s already portrayed in the past: Michael Collins, Alfred Kinsey, Oskar Schindler. He would be a great Lincoln. Then unfortunately, Neeson had to drop out for some reason. Right at that precise moment, I could only think of one actor who could adapt Abraham better than Neeson could. Maybe, better than anyone else could. I thought it, you thought it, Hollywood thought it, everyone else thought it. I wasn’t surprised, as you weren’t either, when Spielberg asked Day-Lewis.
And it turned out brilliantly. Day-Lewis’ performance is the best example of the whole truckload of interpretations being made this modern era: Leo DiCaprio’s Gatsby, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth II, Nathan Fillion's Dogberry, Heath Ledger’s Joker, Freddie Highmore's Norman Bates, Benedict Cumberpatch’s Sherlock, Meryl Streep’s Thatcher, Stephen Graham’s Al Capone, Will McAvoy’s Professor X, Tom Hardy’s Heathcliff, Andy Serkis’ Gollum, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, David Morrissey’s Governor, Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd, Gillian Anderson's Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, Matt Smith’s Doctor, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly Holbrook, Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Lecter, Charlize Theron's Wicked Queen, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, Thomas Jane’s David Drayton, Alan Rickman’s Snape, Anne Hathaway’s Fantine, Edward James Olmos’ Adama, Al Pacino's Shylock, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth Salander, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Mia Wasikowska's Jane Eyre, Forest Whittaker’s Idi Amin, Robert Carlyle's Rumplestiltskin, Mireille Enos' Sarah Linden, Brendon Gleeson's Churchill, Russel Crowe's Ben Wade, Ben Kingsley’s Fagin, Djimon Hounsou's Caliban, Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus, Elijah Wood’s Ryan, Joseph Fiennes' Merlin and, as I discovered last night, Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent. (Sweet lord, what a spiel! Not only is that a lot of interpretations but it displays that Hollywood hasn’t come up with an original concept in aaaaaaaaaaaages!)
So you’re probably wondering what does this have to do ‘Smiley’. Well, the first thing I thought of, in Billy Corgan’s soft, distancing delivery, was – George Smiley, John le Carre’s most famous character.
I remember when Alec Guiness’ version was broadcast back in the day on television. And I saw Gary Oldman’s version on a plane flight. Both were ingenious interpretations, which though different, still showcased Smiley’s soft and distant demeanour. And with Gary Oldman’s film winning mine and others’ praise, I hopped onto that bandwagon again, to eagerly look forward as to who would be cast in its sequel, which I hope would be ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ but might be ‘Smiley’s People’. As each book contains almost 30 original characters, diverse from the other books, there’s no point in me assuming just yet as to who would be cast, as there are 30 characters I’d have to filter through. I’ll just wait until Hollywood finalises the decision. However, out of those 30, there is one character I can pitch for – Karla.
For those of you who don’t know, Karla is George Smiley’s arch nemesis and is basically the same kinda operator, but rather on the Soviet side instead. He was only mentioned in ‘Tinker, Tailor…’ but permeates across the trilogy like a waft. He’s as soft and as distant as George is. He’s the one driving force behind the actions of the trilogy. He's even the one driving force behind all the diverse characters of the trilogy. Yet, he's the most mysterious of all. Like, he’s Sauron, even Moriarty. George Smiley understands him, even respects him, but as Karla delves further and further into the shadows, George becomes obsessed by him. All of these factors boil down to that final scene in the last of the trilogy, where Karla actually makes his appearance.
In the Alec Guiness version, Patrick Stewart, of all people, played him – showcasing the pretty much equal footing between these two characters and these two actors. Hence, it got me thinking. Who the hell is as equal as Gary Oldman to face him down in that jail scene come ‘Smiley’s People’? Who, after three films of only innuendo and speculation, would be the perfect face for Karla? Which actor can platform their talents against George Smiley? Who has the same acting pedigree as Oldman? Hmmmm? Let’s get casting!
Well, Karla can’t be someone cast in this saga already. So that cancels out John Hurt, Mark Strong or Colin Firth. Karla’s gotta be as old as the old man, so that cancels out great younger actors like Lee Pace, Dominic Cooper or Andrew Garfield. And, since this is truly a British affair, Karla’s gotta be British, or even Irish, so that cancels out great actors like Demián Bichir, Christoph Waltz, Malkovich, Irrfan Khan, Hugo Weaving, Viggo Mortensen, Stanley Tucci, Bryan Cranston or Sean Penn. Karla should also be able to sound Russian believably, so that cancels out actors who are best not suited for foreign accents: Vinnie Jones, Sean Bean and Hugh fucking Grant. (I thought Daniel Day-Lewis would be a great choice, but he doesn’t do cameos – so that cancels him out.) Obviously, Karla should be a He, so that cancels out Meryl Streep. (Oh, believe you me, if given the chance, Meryl could play the entire show all by herself and it would still be spectacular!) So, who does that leave?
You know what? I’m stuck at a loss. There are still many prodigious British / Irish actors to filter through who can easily volley against Gary Oldman. There’s Brendon Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gollum himself Andy Serkis, Tim Roth, Kenneth Branagh, ‘Lincoln-could’ve’ Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Ian McKellen, ‘Bond #5’ Pearce Brosnan, Michael Gambon, Alfred Molina. Or how about David Bowie! Hell, even Patrick Stewart could play the role again! Thus, any of the described actors would be perfect for the role.
You see what I did there? I’ve opened up my choices so wide that it’s highly unlikely I’d be disappointed by Hollywood’s final decision. What a cheat! Unless of course they cast Hugh fucking Grant! – which I doubt. With their evidence of the flawless casting for ‘Tinker, Tailor…’, I'm confident they shan't fuck it up.
The role of Karla is so mysterious and indefinite that anyone can play him – but that wouldn’t be fair to Gary Oldman's performance. And the cameo is so small, the mere appearance of the actor playing Karla has gotta punch the viewer every second he's there and be worth this long entire wait. But since I basically chickened out on casting one definite actor, I’ve pretty much made this entry (probably my longest entry on this project, so far) a whole waste of bloody discussion. Sweet lord, what a spiel!