Mar 13 2014 9:15am

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: A Slight Derailment

The Blade Itself Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy Last week I talked about the A-Team. The comments derailed a bit after discussing Logen as B.A. Baraccus, when someone asked, who would actually play Logen in a film? My proposal, of course, was Mickey Rourke.

Why? Like Logen, Rourke has been through the wringer. Addiction, scarring, and hard living has left his face looking sufficiently rearranged to pull off Ninefingers. Not to mention, despite being 61 years old, he’s managed to keep his body in relatively good shape. While Logen isn’t that old, he’s probably closer to 40 than 30 and often described as being older looking than he is. Thus, Rourke. More importantly though, Logen and Rourke’s character from The Wrestler are similar enough that I’ve got proof he can pull it off.

So, if we’ve got Logen cast, who plays everyone else? I’m glad I asked!

Before we get to that topic though, I want to briefly explain why I’m not writing a standard reread post this week. Trust me. It all dovetails together at the end. The answer, in all honesty, is because on March 10, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I’ve been in doctors’ offices, MRI machines, and consultations ever since. As you can imagine, I haven’t had a lot of time for reading and writing. In fact, I’m writing this now after deadline with my foot propped up on a chair and a huge bag of ice draped over it. I relate this life experience for two reasons—sympathy (because my wife seems uninterested in granting me this boon) and, more relevant, realization. The first reason seems self-explanatory. I fully expect the comments to deal exclusively with it. The second, however, requires some exposition.

When my tendon snapped, which by the way feels like someone dropping a 45 pound weight on your ankle from six feet in the air, I became vulnerable. From an emotional standpoint, I felt like a failure, recognizing I’m getting older and my best days, at least in terms of performance on a basketball court, are behind me. Not to mention running around with my children is off the table for a while and that hurts. Equally revelatory was my physical weakness. I cannot, in the near future, mow the lawn, protect my family, flee from a zombie, or bludgeon Sam Sykes. I am, until a medically licensed practitioner of orthopedics fixes me, vulnerable. I do not enjoy this feeling.


It makes you realize some things, doesn’t it? And in this instance it helped me realize one of the deepest themes of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. It’s a story of vulnerability. Logen and Ferro are physically impregnable, but emotionally fragile. Glokta is much the opposite. Jezal believes he’s immortal, as all youth does, but is a hairsbreadth from irrelevance (and/or death) at all times. Bayaz holds on to power because he’s scared of what he’ll become without it. This is hardly a groundbreaking observation, it’s all quite obvious actually, but I express it here because the larger point that needs to be made is fiction evolves with the reader.

The first time I read The Blade Itself I was in my mid-twenties. I could dunk a basketball with ease. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children. There was nothing on earth I couldn’t do if I tried, or so I believed. I was Jezal dan Luthar. And, of course, he was the character I identified with. Particularly after Monday’s disaster I find myself more and more gravitating toward Logen and Glokta. Toward two people who are broken, but resilient. I am attracted to their vulnerabilities. Abercrombie has written a novel whose characters are not compelling for their power, but their weakness. And God damn does that resonate with me.

With that in mind, I want to return to the beginning of the post. I find that, when discussing casting a group of characters from a book, capturing the emotional aspects is endlessly more important than the physical. It’s why I described Mickey Rourke as the perfect choice for Logen. For that same reason I would cast Chris Pine as Jezal dan Luthar, Paul Giamatti as Sand dan Glokta, Michael Chiklis as Bayaz (also could get behind Idris Elba reprising Stringer Bell!), Emma Stone as Ardee, and Zoe Saldana as Ferro. Some of those choices can pull it off physically too, but in Giamatti’s case I’d have a hard time imaging he was ever a world class swordsman, but I can’t think of anyone more qualified to pull the Inquisitor’s unique blend of anger, self-involvement, depression, and rigid, albeit oddly aligned, moral compass.

My desire for these kinds of castings choices is perhaps also an example of my increasing age. I’m no longer convinced that everything in the world must conform to the image I imagine. Just as I no longer hold the expectation that my body will respond to the actions I request. It’s a little depressing, but part of the process, I suppose. Thankfully I still have my retirement years ahead of me where I can demand the world do things like we did in the good old days.

And that my friends is how you write an original casting call post.

Justin Landon runs Staffer’s Book Review where his posts are less on-color. Find him onTwitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

1. imnotasuperhero
Wow...good choices. Actually, -excellent- choice with Rourke, can't think of better for any except Giamatti. And not better, lol, just option B -- Steve Buscemi.
2. Shobbs
Aubrey Plaza as Ardee West.

You identified with Jezal? I'd find myself in Collem's shoes.
Justin Landon
3. jdiddyesquire
I haven't seen Boardwalker Empire, so I see Buscemi as being too silly. But, yeah, he'd probably be good. Definitely a better "look" than Giamatti. Either way, I feel like Glokta would sweat a lot, and both do that well. ;)

Don't know Aubrey Plaza, but if she can be mean and sarcastic... I'm all in!
4. JaMcBurn
Nobody in their right mind will agree with this, but I could see a bald Julian McMahon as Bayaz. Lupita Nyong'o as Ferro? This is also crazy, but Bruce Willis could *act* like a terrific Glokta. Maybe some good makeup and baggy clothes would do the trick.
5. JaMcBurn
Also, this is probably way off, but I pictured Sean Astin as Major West when I read the trilogy.

(I hate to say this, but I sure do qualify things a lot)
Justin Landon
6. jdiddyesquire
Actually Bruce Willis would make a pretty fun Bayaz.
7. Okich
I always imagined Terry O'Quinn as Bayaz.
8. mumblingmynah
All these suggestions are good. What about Ian McShane for Bayaz?
9. TangoDancer
Excellent point well worth repeating concern the vulnerability of the characters, it is too easy to concentrate on the obvious strengths. It is the weaknesses which we mere humans can empathise with.
Hope you get well soon. I wouldn't be so casual about possible Zombie attack I have long suspected they are just waiting for us to drop our guard!
10. Johnnyboy
How about Brian Cranston as Bayaz? It's soooo awesome in my head!
11. Brian Malbon
Click, tap, pain. First the confident click of his left heel on the floor, then the tap of his cane, then finally the slow dragging of his right foot in its air cast, with the familiar pains. That was the rhythm of Justin's walking.
Dude, that sucks. you have all my sympathy.

I love your casting choices. However, I've given a heck of a lot of thought about Glokta over my many reads, mostly because he's the one I always empathized with. The thing I always have to keep in mind is that he was once a very handsome man, as handsome as Jezal our more so. I think the ideal Glokta would have to be a come-from-behind surprise casting choice by some well-known prettyboy giving a hitherto unexpected powerhouse performance. Although I do think Giamatti could easily pull off the role.
Andrew Russo
13. atruso
There was a casting discussion about this trilogy on Goodreads. I think I said Joe Manganiello (from True Blood) for Logen - a bit of a pretty boy, but you could ugly him up a bit for the role. I think he could very capably go full berserker for Logen's "Bloody Nine" sequences. As I was reading I kept picturing Jerome Flynn (Bronn from Game of Thrones) as Black Dow. I was thinking Rosario Dawson as Ferro.

Aubrey Plaza is sarcastic enough to play Ardee, but Ardee has a little bit more to her than that and I don't know Aubrey really has the range. Zooey Deschanel?

Paul Giamatti is an excellent choice as Glotka, and I can totally see Bryan Cranston as Bayaz!
Justin Landon
14. jdiddyesquire
@atruso -- I love me some Rosario. Not sure she's got the right personality for it, but I'm willing to give her a chance. I don't buy Zooey Deschanel as Ardee though. What about the woman who plays Maergery on Game of Thrones?
15. graftonio
Rourke would probably be great for Logen but if you wanted to go closer to his age Micheal C. Hall could pull of the likable brute that switches to th unstoppable killer pretty well. The make up people would have scar him up a little.
16. Rose Ahmad
I want to play too!

Sand dan Glokta - Michael Sheen
Logen Ninefingers - Alexander Skarsgard
Jezal dan Luthar - Jeremy Sumpter
Ferro Maljinn - Danai Gurira
Collem West - James D'Arcy
Bayaz, First of the Magi - Ciaran Hinds
Yulwei - Lance Reddick
Tolomei - Tilda Swinton
Malacus Quai - Alfie Allen
Ardee West - Rachel Hurd-Wood
Black Dow - Kevin McKidd
Dogman - Tobias Menzies
Harding Grim - Paul Kaye
Rudd Threetrees - Vladimir Kulich
Tul Duru Thunderhead - Conan Stevens
Forley - Chris O'Dowd
Caul Shivers - Harry Lloyd
Bethod - Tommy Flanagan
17. Brian Malbon
@jdiddysquire - YES!

And though we'll probably play the casting game again for Before They Are Hanged, I want to be the first to throw in Sacha Baron Cohen as Nicomo Cosca.
18. Gretz
At least you are still alive...
Michael Cho
19. Michael Winter Cho
I guess Anthony Hopkins is too obvious for Bayaz.

Sorry to hear about the devastating injury. It's kind of like fifteen years of aging compressed into a single instant.

Your theme reminds me of what Blake Snyder said in his screenwriting book, "Save the Cat." He said that if you want to sell a script, the main hero _must_ be a brave, young, goodlooking, not-too-smart kid. He said that as a middle-aged man, he would prefer to write about world-weary, experienced men, but that then he remembers he's a Hollywood hack (not his words), and goes back to square one. Could the contrast between Abercrombie and Snyder's methods be any greater?

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