Despite an entire summer speculating who would play Anastasia Steel and Christian Grey, this week’s casting news about E. L. James’ erotic romance novel-turned-film still came as a surprise to many. In fact fan reaction against Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam was so strong, one of the film producers tweeted: “There is a lot that goes into casting that isn’t just looks. Talent, availability, their desire to do it, chemistry with other actor, etc.”
In some ways, a letdown was inevitable. When studios cast a movie that’s based on a bestseller, they’re bound to disappoint—imagine trying to please millions of readers who have visualized the characters in vivid (and in this case leather-clad) detail.
This isn’t the first time casting choices have been questioned. Here are five other film-adaptations of books whose casting choices were met with controversy.
Interview with a Vampire (1994)
Sometimes, the biggest critics of casting decisions are the authors whose books spawned the movie. When Tom Cruise was chosen for the lead role in Interview with a Vampire, author Anne Rice ignited headlines with a quote wisely omitted from the movie poster. “The Tom Cruise casting is so bizarre,” she said, “it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work.” She further stoked the flames by saying the decision would be similar to casting Edward G. Robinson for the role of Rhett Butler—(which was quite a zinger, according to my extensive Google research). But once the “Auth of Goth” saw a screener, she changed her tune. She even took out a two-page ad in Variety praising the film and famously stated: “That Tom did make Lestat work was something I could not see in a crystal ball. It’s to his credit that he proved me wrong.”
Author Stephenie Meyer didn’t criticize the choice of Robert Pattinson for her leading man, but she didn’t hide the fact that he wasn’t her first choice, either. Her dream pick for Edward? Henry Cavill, star of this summer’s DC reboot, Man of Steel. Unfortunately for Cavill, he was 25 by the time shooting was to begin, making him too old to play the part of a sparkly teenage vampire. (The poor guy had just lost the part of James Bond to Daniel Craig for being too young.) The writer’s reaction to the news about Pattinson was reminiscent of someone recounting a blind date. “When they told me Rob was probably the one, I looked him up and thought, Yeah, he can do a version of Edward.” said Meyer. “He’s definitely got that vampire thing going on.”
Cloud Atlas (2012)
If the producers of Cloud Atlas thought they were getting a two-fer by casting Caucasian actors in Asian roles, they should have gotten a partial refund. Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the film features actors playing more than one race across different storylines—a decision that offended many moviegoers. Most critics aimed their ire at Jim Sturgess, who they said performed in “yellowface,” although in truth he looked more like a half-baked Vulcan who lost a a fight with some hornets. In Sturgess’ defense, the actor had his reservations: “[After reading the script] I had a million questions. Like, why would you want me to play an Asian man in your film. What reason did they have—and was that going to be okay?”
Directors Lana and Andy Wachowski defended their controversial casting choice, but not everyone was convinced they were yibberin’ da true true. I guess three hours of race bending will do that to audiences (although no one seemed to complain about the racist portrayal of a homeless leprechaun—yes, I’m looking at you, Hugo Weaving).
The Hunger Games (2012)
When audiences flocked to see The Hunger Games on its opening weekend, a number of fans made headlines by sending out a raft of racist tweets. Their gripe? The decision to cast the roles of characters Rue, Thresh, and Cinna with black actors. Defenders of the cast pointed out that author Suzanne Collins specifically described at least two of the characters as having dark skin, but it did little to quell the haters. Thankfully, their poorly-spelled tirades were limited to 140-characters.
The Shining (1980)
To many people, the finest film adaptation of a Stephen King book was Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But don’t tell Stephen King that. The horror writer reportedly hated the movie and was especially unhappy about casting Jack Nicholson in the lead role. (King felt the central character’s descent into madness would be better portrayed by someone who didn’t already look like he owned a timeshare in Crazyville.) King wasn’t able to talk Kubrick out of his pick, but in 1997, he got the last laugh when a TV mini-series version aired starring arguably the most normal looking man in the world: former Wings leading man, Steven Webber.