Ever since the announcement that
20th Century Fox Lionsgate has optioned the TV and movie rights, I’ve been obsessing over the prospect of casting the series…and I know I’m not the only one. Of course, this is a game people have been playing since The Name of the Wind came out in 2007—Patrick Rothfuss even weighed in early on, tapping a few actors and actresses for different roles. Back in 2008, he pictured Natalie Portman as Denna, for example, Morena Baccarin as Fela, and Neil Patrick Harris as Bast. Far be it from me to disagree with the author, but let’s take a look at some other possibilities…
In many ways, these aren’t easy books to cast: Kvothe himself presents a bit of a problem since his story is split into several timelines (I can’t quite imagine that any adaptation would change the whole structure of the narrative. Or, I can imagine it, but I don’t want to). The roles of older and younger Kvothe would both require incredibly gifted actors who resemble one another to a relatively strong extent. On top of that (assuming the show focuses on the time just around his entrance into the University), younger Kvothe is theoretically in his early teens, but passing as several years older, for much of the story. But the actor playing him has to be old enough to get into some rather adult situations (cough, cough, Felurian, cough) sooner or later, so I think they’ll have to go with a young-looking actor in his early 20s. I’d anticipate a lot of flashbacks to Kvothe’s boyhood as well, so in reality, I’m guessing there will be at least three actors playing the character at different points. The producers should just construct a Bat-Signal for young ginger actors, at this point—they’re going to be seeing more redheads than a Weasley family reunion.
Of course, the fact that it’s a challenge just makes this more fun—I think I’ve finally lined up a pretty sold representation of my dream cast, below. Just to be clear, rather than factoring real world concerns like budget and the actors’ availability, I prefer to focus on acting abilities and finding the closest fit to my own mental impressions of each character. I’ve also chosen actors who are mainly from the UK because in my head, The Commonwealth falls into the odd groove of “probably kind of vaguely British” that has formed in my brain over years of reading/watching fantasy series. Maybe I’m completely off, of course, and the characters should all be speaking like they’re from Wisconsin, or France, or somewhere else entirely. All in all, I expect that mileage for some of these suggestions will vary wildly, so please chime in with your own casting picks and theories in the comments!
Kote (AKA, Older, World-Weary, Cut-Flower Kvothe)—Tom Hiddleston
There have been a lot of strong candidates for this role bandied about lately, and I absolutely agree that Kevin McKidd would do an amazing job as Kote/Kvothe. And as for Magneto Michael Fassbender, that guy should be allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants from now on. But Hiddleston has a playfulness that makes him the first choice, in my mind—the series will need to connect the adult Kvothe with the brash, charming, likeable boy in the past, and Hiddleston has a boyishness that would serve him well in that regard. Plus, he’s a hell of an actor, and it would be a pleasure to watch him navigate the complexities of being both Kote, the affable nobody, and Kvothe, the conflicted, misunderstood legend in his own time.
Kvothe: The Teen Years—Matthew Beard
This role is by far the most difficult to cast, and going with a relative unknown probably wouldn’t be a bad move on the studio’s part. The importance of finding a young actor talented and charismatic enough to carry the series can’t be overstated, and I don’t envy them the job. I changed my mind about 20 times in the course of writing this post—for awhile, I thought about nominating Nicholas Hoult, who seems to be everywhere right now, but it just wasn’t right. In the end, I settled on Matthew Beard (probably best known for his roles in the films An Education and Chatroom) because he comes closest to my mental image of Kvothe as a young adult. Of course, we’d have to reverse-Cumberbatch his hair from dark to true red first, but I think he has both the proper look and the proper intensity to be a contender…
I realize that this might be a controversial choice, but while Sheehan is best known for the motor-mouth and goofball antics that allowed him to steal the show as Nathan in Misfits, I think he’d be amazing as the charming, slightly sinister Bast. Sheehan is fantastic at swinging between comic and dramatic extremes from one minute to the next, and he’s got the look right; I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see in the role of the shifty Fae princeling.
The Chronicler/Devan Lochees—Hugh Laurie
The role of Chronicler could be played a million different ways, and an actor like Hugh Laurie is capable of bringing a little bit of everything to the table: the gruffness of Dr. House, the foppishness of Bertie Wooster, and the skills of a brilliant, world-class comedian. Devan Lochees is a scholar, but he’s also travelled The Four Corners of Civilization by himself, so he’s got some grit to him, and I love the idea of the character being played by an actor who also writes, as Laurie does. It would be an interesting fit…
Ambrose Jakis—Harry Lloyd
Anyone who witnessed his turn as Viserys Targaryen on Game of Thrones knows that nobody plays a smug, spoiled, infuriating jackass quite like Harry Lloyd, and I mean that as a compliment. His sneer is a work of art.
Denna—Tatiana Maslany or Emilia Clarke
The biggest issue for me in casting Denna is that she has to be able to draw the audience in, the same way that Kvothe is drawn to her, inexorably. It’s not just a matter of being physically attractive—Denna has to be inherently likeable, which can be difficult when playing the unobtainable object of a protagonist’s desire. Given the nature of Denna and Kvothe’s friendship/tentative romance, it would be easy for her to come off as flaky or frustrating, which is why I think either Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany or Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke could fill the role admirably. Both are capable of projecting a warmth and humor that seems absolutely genuine—as well as shifting seamlessly between toughness to vulnerability. They’re both hugely appealing actresses who could do wonders with a potentially difficult character.
Master Elodin—Lee Pace
Lee Pace has quickly become of my favorite actors over the last few years due to his astounding range as a performer. Whether it’s quirky comedy (Pushing Daisies), tragic indie drama (Soldier’s Girl), stunning meta-fantasy (The Fall), or more mainstream roles like Scruffy Eyeliner Vampire in Twilight: Breaking Dawn or Sad, Unhelpful Elf King in The Hobbit, Pace brings something new and unexpected to every role. I think he’d be the perfect choice to bring Elodin’s mercurial eccentricities to life without sacrificing the darker, more haunted aspects of the Master Namer.
Elxa Dal—David Tennant
Do I really need to explain this one? I would also happily accept Tennant in the role of Elodin, but then I wouldn’t have gotten to use this picture. And that would have been a damn shame.
Best known for playing Peter Pevensie in the Narnia films, Moseley would be an obvious fit for playing Kvothe’s sensitive, sandy-haired friend and drinking buddy.
Most people will recognize Elyes Gabel as Rakharo from Game of Thrones or his latest role in World War Z, but I saw him first in The Borgias (because I have a weakness for scenery-chewing and historical melodrama. I’m not proud). He’d bring plenty of charm to the role of the stoic, intelligent Wilem—the steady voice of reason in Kvothe’s life at The University.
Fela—Jessica Brown Findlay
Besides the fact that she’s clearly rather stunning, Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay has a knack for playing young, intelligent, idealistic women—who better for the luminous and clever Fela?
Saoirse Ronan is a seriously gifted young actress, capable of bringing all manner of depth and shading to the role of the damaged, otherworldly Auri. I know that Evanna Lynch (who did a stellar job as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies) is a popular favorite for this role, but after seeing Ronan’s performance in Hanna, I’d argue she’s the stronger choice: capable of balancing Auri’s delicate, ethereal quality with the fearful, feral survival instincts of someone slightly wild, maybe even slightly mad. In other words, she’d keep things from getting way too twee. And just in case the older, rather stark photo above doesn’t do her justice, check out this amazing, Pre-Raphaelite-inspired photo shoot from Vogue.
Devi—Dakota Blue Richards (or maybe Jenna-Louise Coleman?)
I can’t quite make up my mind on this one. Doctor Who’s Jenna-Louise Coleman would certainly be a natural fit for Devi: several years older than Kvothe, smart, flirtatious, driven, with a devious, mercenary nature beneath an innocent exterior. On the other hand, Richards (who made her debut as Lyra in The Golden Compass) might make an interesting foil for Kvothe—her youth and physical slightness underscoring our sense of Devi as a formidable woman used to being underestimated (by Kvothe and others), something she both resents and uses to her advantage. I think I would enjoy watching Dakota Blue Richards letting loose as the most feared gaelet in Imre.
Count Threpe—Jim Broadbent
Who doesn’t like Jim Broadbent?! He’d be a delightful fit as the good-hearted, music-loving Count Threpe, patron of the arts and devoted friend to young Kvothe.
BONUS ROUND: The Wise Man’s Fear
Maer Alveron—Richard Armitage
Looking ahead to the events of The Wise Man’s Fear, Richard Armitage would bring just the right amount of aristocratic gravitas and aloofness to the role of the enigmatic Maer.
Lady Meluan Lackless—Eva Green
Eva Green is beautiful, she’s got plenty of experience in the fantasy genre (The Golden Compass, Dark Shadows, Camelot, etc.), and she plays a very convincing femme fatale—all of which might come in handy in approaching the role of the mysterious Meluan Lackless.
The up-and-coming India Eisley, the 19-year-old daughter of actress Olivia Hussey, made news when she was tapped to play the younger incarnation of Angelina Jolie in Disney’s Maleficent. I’m hoping/assuming that Fox will tone down much of the Felurian section of the novel for TV, which makes me feel slightly less guilty at casting someone so young-looking for a character described by Kvothe as a “primal lust goddess”—I’m aiming more for a PG-13, Manic Fairie Dream Girl territory. Get her some butterfly eye makeup and write in some extra clothing, and it’s hardly creepy at all, right? Maybe?
So, that’s all for now—maybe we can do another round focusing on more of the secondary characters and The Wise Man’s Fear at a later date. In the meantime, please have at it in the comments…
Bridget McGovern is the managing editor of Tor.com. She spent the last week wading through previously uncharted regions of Google Image Search, and what has been seen can never, ever be unseen.