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Spike Lee's "Oldboy" Start Moved Back + Casting Carousel Continues + Thoughts On Diversifying Cast

by Tambay A. Obenson
January 17, 2012 12:58 PM
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We've documented Spike Lee's casting troubles for his interpretation of fanboy/girl fave Oldboy, based on the original manga of the same name. 

And now production on the film has been pushed back to late summer/early fall (early spring was the previously-scheduled start date) thanks in part to star Josh Brolin's press commitments for Men In Black 3, but likely also because the film's starring cast hasn't been sured-up yet.

Most recently, Clive Owen joined a short list of actors who were previously offered starring roles in the film but later rejected them for (in most cases) unspecified reasons; he was offered the main villain role, which was previously offered to Colin Firth and Christian Bale; obviously both also declined. I'm left wondering if these 3 actors who turned down the role did so because they are put off by the character (your garden variety self-righteous asshole, who does some utterly despicable shit, without giving away anything of the story for those who aren't familiar). Granted I don't know exactly what Spike's version will include, so this is all just speculation based on Park Chan-wook's 2003 film and the original manga.

There certainly could be other reasons for their rejections. So the hunt is back on for the actor to play that obviously pivotal role. 

Also Rooney Mara turned down the female lead role, which was then offered to Mia Wasikowska, but nothing's definite there either, as in whether she's accepted the part. I can see why Mara would turn it down, having just done Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; not that the roles are exactly the same, but after having to be completely vulnerable and exposed in the dark, brooding, violent Tattoo, she may not have wanted to be just as vulnerable and exposed in the dark, brooding, violent Oldboy - at least not-so soon afterward.

Josh Brolin has been the man all along for the lead role, and he's still attached; and as the search continues for an actor to play the villain, I'm wondering whether there are any non-white actors being considered for the part; why not mix up the casting a bit?

Being familiar with the material, there's really no reason why the villain can't be black, or from any other minority group. Sure, there'll likely be those dissenting voices within the black community lamenting the fact that the black man plays the despicable villain, instead of the *hero* (although I'm not sure that there are any real *heroes* in this). But I'd say that, as is often the case in cinema, the villain is a quite the meaty role for the right actor to really sink his teeth into, and even attract critical acclaim with. 

No, it's not glamorous; it's one hell of a *messy*, twisted, tragic story (going based on the manga and the first film), which partly explains its cult-dom. And I would welcome a black actor (despite the expected controversy that would come afterward) in the part; emphasis on the word "Actor;" Someone who could simultenoeusly pull off arrogance/self-importance (the lengths he goes to accomplish what he does and how much he relishes torment and anguish in his victims), and self-loathing (there's a lingering undercurrent of sadness and self-blame that you sense within him). 

The final showdown between villain and hero is an epic one, and will be a showcase of each actor's ability. 

So, for those of you who are familiar with the material already, if you were to cast a black actor in this as the villain, who would you go with?

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  • Walter | January 20, 2012 4:48 PMReply

    Has it ever occurred to anyone that people just don't want to be involved with this film because it's shit?

    Christian Bale played a far more reprehensible character in 'American Psycho', so the odds are that he turned this down because he didn't want to play the villain in Oldboy because he was put off by how bad the villain was is just silly.

  • Mecca | January 18, 2012 7:37 PMReply

    Mia Wasikowska? Really? That chick who was in Alice In Wonderland & Jane Eyre. C'mon Spike I KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT! *Vivica A. Fox voice*

  • Donella | January 18, 2012 6:49 PMReply

    **"Let's also not leave out the chance to spin this story on its head by casting a strong woman in the role as the villian."** This actually might work and I might be persuaded to watch it again for this reason. I wonder if Spike has thought of shaking it up this way?

  • BONDGIRL | January 18, 2012 9:32 AMReply

    If it's a black actor, I'd like to see an unknown. Chiwitel is lazy casting. He's a phenomenal talent, but he has projects, so let's give someone else a chance to get their SAG card here. There're a lot of Bwy actors doing serious stage work, so this would be an ideal opportunity for Spike (who loves this) to discover new blood. Let's also not leave out the chance to spin this story on its head by casting a strong woman in the role as the villian. There are some really interesting unlikeable female characters cropping up as of late, and I enjoy the idea that women don't have to be agreeable onscreen. As for which actress, I will have to dig deeper to find someone since it's not coming to me at the moment. Suggestions?

  • Jug | January 18, 2012 7:21 PM

    BONDGIRL!! How you doing love? I see you on the other posts going solo like Mad Max and what not LOL Yeah, Chewie is lazy casting, but even Spike ain't about to bring nobody new up in here. Not with this project. SHE HATE ME, different story. Mackie had heat from Broadway & 8 MILE. But this, with Brolin, Firth, Mara & the like being bandied about, I don't know if he can swing an unknown, much less a black one. Now, you are sure enough telling the truth about the stage work going on, but that might not be enough to be the Holy Grail for this one. If he switches it up to a female, I'd see it JUST for having the balls to do that LOL Jokes aside, maybe bring old Vivica back to the forefront. I love going in the grab bag for casting, makes it exciting!

  • LeonRaymond | January 17, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    To: toexplain, I agree with you on The 25th Hour, I loved that film to death and I am sorry Spike has not lost it at all , but inn terms of time those people who turned it down may feel that way and I think that it's Hog wash that they turned it down cause it was dark and they would be repeating them selves , they could have done his film as it would have been a different degree of darkness Rooney Mara I clearly understand with obligations on TGWTDT but those other actors I am sorry, they are as busy as Josh but he signed on, but why turn down a Spike Lee film , all the actors all ways come out looking good beyond their fan base, and no body with the exception of OT makes old actors look awesome and new actors look different. I would cast Eamonn Walker in a second but Spike had a cast list in mind so hey I have faith in him.

  • Neziah | January 17, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Forest Whitaker could do it, he can play a vicious and frightening force of nature (The Last King of Scotland) just as well as he can play a calculated, calm and sophisticated role that relies on subtlety (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai). He would knock this role out of the park; he's still got the ability. Who cares about box-office?

  • Donella | January 17, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    If Spike is doing an Americanized version of Old Boy, and basing the action, say, in NY, then it makes entire sense that the cast be racially-mixed. However, it would also work with a homogenized cast since the main characters in the story attended the same school as youths. But the main question is... would anyone really want to since the storyline is sickening. I don't predict a large audience for this film.

  • yun | February 13, 2012 6:05 PM

    yes, thank you...wasn't it a SK film? hello....aren't we past yellowface?

  • dosley | January 17, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    The Guy from Friday after next.big

  • Tamara | January 17, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    I'm going to second Anya with CHIWETEL EJIOFOR. And then I'll suggest also a couple others: RICHARD BROOKS - the man killed in "Objects in Space" as "Jubal Early" in the Firefly series. Just one episode, a cluster of dialogue and he's like one of the best villains of that short-lived series. Just cool, calm, collected and eeevil...and sexy. LOL. Also, this dude: EAMONN WALKER - need I say more? NEED I SAY MORE! Lastly, LANCE REDDICK. Those are my choices.

  • Jug | January 17, 2012 2:48 PM

    Eamonn Walker would be a good call, but we can see it coming a mile away. Eamonn is a force, both physically & on screen & he screams "BAD GUY, RUN!!" all day long. If Lance did less FRINGE & more his guest star turn on IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA for OLD BOY, than yeah. Only because FRINGE gives him little leeway in showing off personality & interesting characteristics (he just walks around like the constipated black dude LOL-I kid, I love FRINGE). But I'm with y'all on Chiwetel tho! He has the slight frame to not be imposing like DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, but we know he can kick ass in fight work & has the intelligence & upwardly mobile vile factor thing in SERENITY. Plus, he can go there to create memorable choices like KINKY BOOTS. Plus, he's one of my favorite male actors right now :-D

  • LeonRaymond | January 17, 2012 1:24 PMReply

    Josh is made of stronger stuff so he does not bow down to the whispers of Hollywood that say don't do a Spike Lee film cause the audience will only be Black and white don't watch his films, I know for a fact had the director been an unknown first time, right out of school white person all those actors would climbing over each other to do it.

    Come on we know what this smells like !!!!

  • tmack | January 17, 2012 11:47 PM

    I like the idea of Eamon Walker, also Chiwetel. Oldboy is a difficult film, and I wonder who's done the screenplay for the Americanized version. To be frank, I didn't really love Oldboy and tried to watch it at least two times, never getting to the end of it. I suspect an American version might be more...relatable.

    There's always Denzel!

  • Jug | January 17, 2012 2:04 PM

    And I think it's a bad call for Idris. He is KNOWN as Stringer Bell, not Laura Linney's love interest on THE "C" WORD, his comedic turn on THE OFFICE or Heimdall in THOR. And now getting a Golden Globe for LUTHER, where in essence he plays an angry out of control Black guy, yeah not a good look is he's trying to broaden his base. He should be the guy in SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT..AGAIN LOL

  • Jug | January 17, 2012 2:02 PM

    Have to agree with TOEXPLAIN. Clive worked with Spike on his biggest hit to date INSIDE MAN. Bale & Mara have just spent the last few years being dark as hell (Batman & Lisbeth Salander in GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATOO-plus Mara is attached to them for at least 3 pics) & Colin has an Oscar right now, so "stretching" to please a niche audience is something he doesn't have to do. And by niche, I am referring to the subject matter. Don't see it as a race thing at all. After seeing the original OLD BOY, the American version film will be loved by a small few (those who liked RESERVOIR DOGS & HOSTEL) & hated by the many (90/95% of the viewers). We just don't do that sort of subject matter without being deep & super dramatic about it, not flippant & cavalier. They'll need to go to someone like Keanu Reeves who, while is light on the acting front, still pulls audiences, is decent on screen & above all-just doesn't give a shit LOL

  • toexplain | January 17, 2012 1:38 PM

    I doubt that they are turning it down due to the reason you are giving. Spike has done 25th Hour and Inside Man, and had very diverse casts. Inside Man was a commercial success. The problems lie elsewhere

  • Andre | January 17, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    I would definitely cast Idris Elba as the villain, he has the cool and control for the character.
    Things would get thorny when the motivation for his actions where revealed. The entire context might take on too much of a racial overtone and lose some of the ambiguity of the choices one makes invite tragedy....

  • Anya Weber | January 17, 2012 1:18 PMReply

    How about Chiwetel Ejiofor? He could play against type and could bring some layers to the villain role.

    Spike's got to be thinking about making this a multiracial movie, right? He's moved away from doing films with all-black or mostly black casts, but helping talented black actors build their careers is still a priority for him, I bet.

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