Dream-casting Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

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If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy and haven’t been lost in the far reaches of the Northwest Territories for the better part of the past week, you already know about the exciting announcement that hit last week. DMG Entertainment now owns the film and licensing rights to the entire Cosmere, placing them in the position of holding a massive franchise with immense potential for years decades to come. Excited, much?

I first saw the news when someone posted it to a beta-readers group, and after a few minutes of general rambunction, we promptly began the debate over who should be cast as Hoid. Which naturally leads to why we’re here today…

Before we get to our casting picks, let’s address some of the most common questions and worries fans have expressed.

The original statement mentions plans for a movie adaptation of The Way of Kings, but many believe it would work better as TV series. Lucky for us, DMG can choose to do either one. Right now they’re looking for a big-screen adaptation—because who doesn’t want to watch these epic scenes play out on a screen as big as a house? When they start writing the screenplay, they may well decide that it needs to be done as two or three films (the book is written in five parts, after all), or they might decide that it would work better as a weekly television series. They’ve got the choice, and they’ll make it when the time comes. Brandon has also made the point that the people he’s working with are not just movie-makers – they’re fans. They really want to do this justice.

I’ve also seen calls to start with Mistborn first, and I personally agree. Introducing the franchise through a manageable story with a female lead makes sense. As much as I want to see Kaladin learn to fly, I believe they’d be better served by starting with Vin—but that’s just one fan’s opinion.

Finally, the purchase of film rights doesn’t guarantee a film. In fact, most such purchases never turn into anything, and eventually the rights revert back to the author, and someone else buys them and the cycle begins anew. So our enthusiasm is restrained, eh? We can get well and truly pumped when they announce a good screenplay and a cast.

Which brings me to… DREAM-CASTING! It also brings me to admit that I’m a total loss at this. Fortunately, I can go to the same people Brandon and Peter go to: the beta readers. They are awesome, y’all, and I owe a round of drinks, or dinner, or something. In fact, I’m just going to step aside now: the true dream-casting comes as a guest post by the most excellent Lyndsey Luther:

Greetings, Brightlords and ladies! Lyndsey here! The Sanderson fan community was taken by storm (haha, get it?!) with Brandon’s recent announcement of his big Cosmere film deal, and we—his beta and gamma readers—have come up with a tentative “dream-cast” for your speculation pleasure! I have the fun job of condensing our thoughts/opinions on the matter for you into a handy-dandy list of actors who, we postulate, would be the perfect cast for a potential Stormlight Archive film.

Before we get into the fun stuff, I’d like to tell you a little about our decision-making process. For the purposes of this dream-casting, we are focusing on how actors or actresses look now (as opposed to, say, “Yul Brynner from the days of the original Magnificent Seven”). Some of these choices are big names (and we do mean big), but for the most part we tried to stick with more inexperienced actors, basing our choices in these cases primarily on the way they looked. (Casting unknowns worked well for Game of Thrones, after all.) We also put a lot of thought into the question of characters’ race and ethnicity. Unless you read the books very carefully, you may be surprised by some of our choices in this regard, so I’d like to fill you in briefly on Brandon’s comments regarding ethnicity in Roshar. (If you’d rather just get to the casting, feel free to skip this paragraph.)

For the most part, Brandon has stated that characters in the Stormlight Archive should have the epicanthic fold in their eyes; on this Reddit thread, he said:

Alethkar natives other than the Shin have the epicanthic fold, but the Alethi wouldn’t look strictly Asian to you–they’d look like a race that you can’t define, as we don’t have them on Earth. I use half-Asian/half-arab or half-asian/half-Polynesian models as my guide some of the time, but Alethi are going to have a tanner skin than some of those. . . . Shin would look the closest to Caucasian to you. . . .

With this in mind, we attempted to limit the majority of our cast to Asian actors and actresses. If we couldn’t find an Asian actor or actress who was perfect for the role, we did branch out to other races and ethnicities, but one of our main concerns was not white-washing the cast.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the list! We’ll begin with the primary characters, and move on to a few secondary cast members that we were unanimously able to agree on…

 

Kaladin Stormblessed – Alex Mallari, Jr.

alex-mallari-kaladinLet’s start with the focus character of Book One – Kaladin Stormblessed. Kaladin begins the story as a slave and undergoes some hardships along the way, and – let’s face it – is pretty angsty for a good portion of The Way of Kings. He struggles with his conceptualization of honor and what constitutes it, but is fiercely loyal to those he loves. Being Alethi, he would have the epicanthic fold and is described as being very tall, darker of skin, with long brown hair and a muscular physique. We started off with quite a few possibilities for Kal (eleven, to be precise) but ultimately we decided on Alex Mallari, Jr. He isn’t very well known yet, with parts on Dark Matter and Designated Survivor.

While he is a little old for the part at 28, we think he could pull off the younger look for Kal (who is supposed to be 19). He is also only 5’10”, but height isn’t necessarily a killing blow – as Lord of the Rings taught us, the viewer can be cleverly tricked into believing a character is taller or shorter with camera work.

Not only does he have the look and build for the part, but we believe he has the acting chops to pull it off as well. We were particularly impressed with one specific scene in Designated Survivor, in which Alex plays a Navy Seal talking to the President. In this scene he demonstrated a manner and way of carrying himself that screams “Kaladin.” It was noted that while he looked young in this scene, his eyes seemed much older and mature, which is very in-character for Kaladin and his experiences in The Way of Kings.

Honorable Mention: Luke Pasqualino for looks alone, particularly in his The Musketeers role. Thanks to tumblr user SquireNonny for “discovering” him.

 

Dalinar Kholin – Ken Watanabe or Donnie Yen

ken-watanabe-dalinarNext up: Dalinar Kholin! This Alethi highprince is supposed to be on the older side, probably in his 50s, with two sons in their 20s. In his younger days he was a formidable warrior (and he can still sling a Shardblade with the best of them), but during the events of Way of Kings he starts taking more of an administrative role in the ongoing war. He is described as being powerfully built, with wings of white in his black hair, and would be darker of skin (similar to Kaladin).

The beta reader group was a bit more divided on this casting choice – Ken Watanabe just barely beat out Donnie Yen as the winner. Watanabe is 57 years old, perfect for Dalinar, and strikes an imposing figure at 6’0”. He also displays the gravitas required of the role – one need only look at his performance in The Last Samurai to see that. He usually plays characters who are honorable and driven by duty. If there’s a better description for Dalinar, we have yet to hear it.

donnie-yen-dalinarOn the flip side, Donnie Yen is also approximately the right age (53) and has the martial arts training to do Dalinar’s more physical scenes justice. He’s a little short for the role at 5’8” and admittedly has a somewhat limited range, but the type of character he usually portrays (honorable older statesmen or warriors) is perfect for Dalinar. Not sold yet? Go check out the 1993 Kung Fu film Iron Monkey and get back to us. (We’re excited to see what he does in Star Wars: Rogue One as well!)

 

Shallan Davar – Rose Leslie

rose-leslie-shallanShallan Davar is the next character we debated. Shallan begins the story as a naïve girl with a surprisingly devious mission, and is very young – around 17. She is described as being slim and pale with freckles on her cheeks and nose, and long auburn hair. For Shallan, we broadened our casting net to include actresses without the epicanthic fold, despite the fact that Shallan would have eyes like most other Alethi. Our reasoning is that since Shallan is from Jah Kaved (and hence foreign compared to the majority of the rest of the cast), it would make sense for her to look noticeably different.

Our choice for Shallan is Rose Leslie, of Game of Thrones fame (she played Jon Snow’s lover, Ygritte). Not only does she have the requisite red hair, she also has the young, naïve look that we associate with Shallan, despite the fact that she’s a bit old for the part at 29. Her role in Downton Abbey serves as a good example of the naivety and immaturity of which she’s capable, in contrast to the tough-as-nails Ygritte. (That toughness would come in handy for some of Shallan’s later scenes, particularly those in Book Two, Words of Radiance.)

Just as long as she never says “You know nothing, Kaladin Stormblessed,” she’s got the part, in our opinion.

Honorable Mention: Chloe Bennet

 

Adolin Kholin – Godfrey Gao

godfrey-gao-adolinFangirls rejoice, because we’re on to the pretty boy, aka Adolin Kholin! One of Dalinar’s sons, Adolin is half Riran and takes after his mother’s side. He is described as being lighter of skin than his father, with blond hair with black strands in it. Being very handsome, Adolin is a bit of a playboy, jumping from brightlady to brightlady when he’s not on the battlefield. He is an accomplished warrior and commander for his age (early 20s) and owns his own set of Shardplate and a Shardblade. There’s some inconsistency on Adolin’s height, but it can be surmised that he is of a similar height with his father.

For Adolin, we considered quite a few actors. Getting the right combination of handsome, young, Asian, muscular enough to pull off a warrior role, and a charming smile proved to be more of a challenge than we anticipated, but we finally decided on a relative unknown, Godfrey Gao, for the part. He’s got just the right mix of looks and charm from what we can tell from his photos. He’s a bit old for the part at 32, but we’re pretty sure if he lost that scruff he’d look quite a lot younger.

 

Jasnah Kholin – Morena Baccarin

morena-baccarin-jasnahJasnah Kholin, Dalinar’s niece, was the next character we considered. She’s a bit older than Shallan, Kal, or Adolin (in her early 30s) and described as having long black hair. She always dresses impeccably and is stoic and regal, exemplifying both her chosen occupation as a scholar and her hereditary role as sister to the King of Alethkar. She is tall and slender, and spends the majority of the first book as Shallan’s mentor.

This choice was unanimous on the part of the beta readers. We chose Morena Baccarin, primarily known for her part as the escort Inara in Firefly and, more recently, as Vanessa in Marvel’s Deadpool film. (Do we really need to say anything more than “She was Inara”?) While Morena doesn’t have the epicanthic fold in her eyes, we couldn’t think of a single actress who exemplified Jasnah better. (Also, it should be mentioned that the skin tone of most Alethi is sometimes described by Team Sanderson as being more Brazilian, which is where Morena is from. So while she may not have the right eyes, she does hit the bullseye on another front.) She’s done a lot of genre work, which is always a plus, and is 37 – not too far off from Jasnah’s age. As Inara, she portrayed poise, elegance, and an airy dismissal of the antics of the rest of the crew that feels very similar to Jasnah. She is feminine (and undeniably beautiful) yet also tough when she needs to be, and can stand on her own against anyone who opposes her.

 

Szeth-son-son-Vallano – Michael Rosenbaum or Aaron Paul

michael-rosenbaum-szethOther than Adolin, the character we had the most trouble casting was Szeth-son-son-Vallano. An assassin tortured by the morality of what he is forced to do, Szeth is a Shin, and hence the only character in the main cast who would not have the epicanthic fold in his eyes. Because of this, he is often described by other characters as having “big” eyes and as looking younger, more innocent (despite probably being nearly 40). He is short and, what we discovered made for the hardest casting criteria of all, bald.

Now, anyone can shave their head or wear a bald cap, but it is very difficult to imagine what someone will look like without hair! Often they will look like a different person entirely. Most of the actors we considered without very short hair (or who were entirely bald) in photos we eventually dismissed, and wound up as a result with one winner and one close runner-up.

The winner for Szeth was Michael Rosenbaum, who you may remember played Lex Luthor in Smallville back in the day. He’s 44, which puts him at right around the right age group for Szeth, and we know he can pull off the bald look! Not only this, but in his part as Lex he did a wonderful job oscillating between the sympathetic and the villainous.

aaron-paul-szethThe runner-up for Szeth was Aaron Paul, of Breaking Bad fame. If there’s one thing we know Aaron can pull off, it’s regret and tragic angst. His acting in the last few seasons of Breaking Bad was a tour de force, and we believe that he can very effectively pull off Szeth’s gradual descent into insanity. He’s 37, which is perfect for Szeth, and possesses a certain youthfulness (when he’s not spouting obscenities as Jesse, anyways). Other than Breaking Bad his roles have been relatively small, but we’re confident that he can pull this one off. He’s got a slight advantage in that he is a little shorter than Michael (5’8” to Michael’s 6’0”), but since neither is quite as short as Szeth is described as being, this isn’t a deal-breaker for either actor.

 

Hoid – Tom Hiddleston

tom-hiddleston-hoidOn to Hoid, because of course we had to discuss everyone’s favorite snarky world-hopper! (For those not in the know, Hoid – aka the King’s Wit – shows up in all of Sanderson’s Cosmere-related novels.) He’s a bit difficult to pin down physically, since his appearance changes from book to book. Hoid is a trickster by nature and uses disguises and magic to conceal or change his appearance, though in The Way of Kings he’s described as tall and thin with black hair. We have no way of knowing if he has the epicanthic fold to his eyes – as a foreigner to Roshar he probably would not, but since none of the characters make any mention of his eyes, he may have changed his appearance to look more Alethi. We chose to widen our casting net to include all nationalities for Hoid, and as such, one choice rose naturally to the top as a unanimous decision.

Who better to play a devious, charming-yet-snarky trickster than Tom Hiddleston? He’s a big name, yes, but Hoid would be a minor part (maybe ten minutes of screen time) over the course of The Way of Kings. A cameo certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, and none of the other choices we came up with held a candle to him. Tom’s popularity skyrocketed with his portrayal of Loki in the Marvel films (Thor, Avengers, etc) and it is this role which caught our eye for Hoid. As Loki, he’s portrayed a huge range of emotions: devious, joking, smarmy, serious, tortured, snarky, charming, loving. We’d choose Tom Hiddleston if for no other reason than to see him eventually deliver Hoid’s line “If I have to watch this world crumble and burn to get what I need, I will do so.”

 

Sylphrena – Evanna Lynch

evanna-lynch-sylLast but certainly not least of the primary cast is Sylphrena (aka Syl), Kaladin’s spren friend. Spren are the manifestations of emotions and elements in Roshar, and Syl – unusual for her kind – displays intelligence and can speak. She is described as a tiny (about 5”to 10” tall) young woman with an angular face and long flowing hair. She is usually entirely white with bluish tints, and glows. She can change her shape at will and sometimes appears as a glowing ribbon of light swirling in the air.

Syl’s apparent age is never addressed, so our choices ranged from 12 all the way up to mid-20s. We initially skewed a little younger, mostly because Syl’s personality is very childish and immature, but our final choice wound up being older than we expected. Once again we had a clear winner: Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series. She’s young (25) but not too young, and her part in Harry Potter is very close to Syl’s personality. She’s a little flighty, a bit eccentric, but can also be serious and endearing when she chooses to. Above all, we think she can pull off the airy silliness that is so central to Syl’s character.

 

Phew! Now that all of the main characters are taken care of, we have a few choices for secondary characters as well. We’re only submitting our choices here if we were unanimous in our estimation that these actors or actresses were perfect for their respective roles (with one exception, which I will save for last)…

 

Torol Sadeas – Oliver Platt

oliver-platt-torol

Sadeas is described as having a bulbous head with curly hair and ruddy cheeks. He’s the type of character that you just love to hate, and Oliver portrayed this type of character perfectly in his part in The Three Musketeers.

 

 

Sigzil – Don Cheadle

don-cheadle-sigzil

We know that Sigzil has dark skin and black hair. He is one of Kaladin’s fellow bridgemen, and used to be a Worldsinger. Cheadle is a lauded actor that could definitely bring the right feel to the character – plus we loved him in as Rhodey/War Machine in the Marvel films.

 

 

Teft – Liam Cunningham

liam-cunningham-teft

Teft is the older Bridgeman who begins to serve as Kaladin’s second-in-command. He has military experience and is described as “long past his 20s” with salt and pepper hair and a neat, short, and square beard. Liam’s role as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones is so close to Teft that it’s almost uncanny (especially as of the last season), not to mention the physical similarities. A grizzled older man serving as a confidant and advisor to a younger, battle-hardened commander? Add in the fact that he’s got some sort of tragic backstory that haunts him? Yep, sign Liam Cunningham up immediately, please.

 

Amaram – Ian Anthony Dale

ian-anthony-dale-amaram

Amaram is Kaladin’s old commander, and would be showing up in flashbacks over the course of The Way of Kings. He’s a battle-hardened commander described as tall and imposing, and the actor who portrays him will need to come across as likable . . . at first. We determined that Ian absolutely has the right look for Amaram.

 

 

Lopen – Pedro Pascal

pedro-pascal-lopen

Ah, Pedro. He won over everyone’s hearts with his (ahem) eye-opening role as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones, and he’s our overwhelming choice for Lopen, Kaladin’s one-armed bridgeman friend with the incorrigible sense of humor. Pedro’s certainly got the charm to pull this one off, not to mention the fact that he’s from Chile, which is right next door to Sanderson’s stated influence for Lopen’s nationality/country of origin, Bolivia.

 

Taravangian – George Takei

george-takei-taravangian

Oh myyyyy. This was a fun choice for us, and only partially because we all adore “Uncle George.” Taravangian is described as an elderly man with a wispy white beard and a kindly face. He’s the king of the country in which Shallan finds herself in The Way of Kings, but the character takes some . . . interesting turns in later installments. We’d love to see George’s take on this character; he’s certain got the “kindly face” for it, and we’d love to see him stretch his acting muscles in a serious role.

 

Gaz – Mark Shepperd

mark-shepperd-gaz

Mark’s a well-known face in fandom, having been in everything from White Collar to Supernatural to Firefly to Doctor Who to Battlestar Galactica. He plays lovably villainous characters with an enthusiastic flair (we’re looking at you, Crowley) and would be a fabulous choice for Gaz. Kaladin’s slave-master in The Way of Kings is short, with one missing eye and a scraggly beard, all of which Mark could absolutely pull off with the right makeup artists. Gaz is one of those characters you love to hate, like Sadeas, and Mark’s wry humor would be a welcome addition to the cast.

 

Navani Kholin – Lucy Liu

lucy-liu-navani

Our final unanimous choice, Lucy Liu not only looks the part (Navani is older, closer to Dalinar’s age) but also has both the queenly gravitas and the “I don’t give a s*** what you think” attitude that anyone who intends to play Navani desperately needs. Her role in Elementary proves that she can certainly get across the message that “I’m here to do what I need to do and I don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable.”

 

Rock – Dave Bautista

dave-bautista-rock

While this choice was not unanimous, Ted and Joel felt so strongly about it that we decided to include it anyway! (The rest of us were simply “eh” on it, not violently opposed.) Rock, whose real name is . . . practically unpronounceable, is another one of Kaladin’s bridge crew and the erstwhile chef for Bridge Crew 4. He’s a big man with a low, rumbling voice (at least if you consider the audiobook canon) and a healthy sense of humor. Ted and Joel feel that Dave is a particularly good choice for Rock based on a few factors: first of all, his physical appearance—Dave Bautista is a Pacific Islander, which Rock’s people are described as being similar to, and he’s 6’4”. They were also very impressed with Dave’s portrayal of Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a role that demands a similar cadence and sense of comedic timing.

 

How’d we do? Do you agree? Vehemently disagree? Have some people to suggest that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments!

Contributors to this article (part of the Sanderson beta reading team): Ted Herman, Nikki Ramsay, Jory Michael Phillips, Joel D. Phillips, Ross Newberry, Trae Cooper, Gary Singer, and Mark Lindberg.

Alice Arneson is a Sanderson beta reader and regular Tor blogger, currently in the early stages of rereading Warbreaker. Lyndsey Luther is also a Sanderson beta reader, as well as a fire performer, cosplayer, and moderator over on the Stormlight Archive subreddit. You can find her Celtic-inspired fairy-tale novelette “One Last Moment of Silence” on Amazon.

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