‘Tis the season… for Sanderson dream-casts and releases! What better gift could we ask for under the tree than our very own copies of the Mistborn 10th anniversary leather-bound edition? Well… how about a Mistborn dream-cast? (Okay, so maybe the dream-cast’s not as good as full-color endpages and ribbon book-marks and smyth-sewn pages. But if you can’t afford that steep price-tag, a dream-cast is a nice consolation prize—a free way to spend some more time in Scadrial.)
Last month the Sanderson beta reader crew discussed our picks for the possibility of a The Way of Kings film adaptation in the wake of the announcement that Sanderson had sold film rights to his Cosmere universe. Well, this month we’re back (plus special guest braid_tug) with another round-table dream-casting session, this time for Mistborn: The Final Empire. After several weeks of suggestions, debates, and voting, Ross and I are here to present the beta readers’ choices and to talk a bit about the group’s reasons for coming to the decisions we did. There may be some mild spoilers for Mistborn included in our comments here, so be forewarned. If you haven’t read the book yet, it may be best to steer clear of this article until you have.
I personally feel that this would be the natural choice for a viewer’s first foray into Sanderson’s Cosmere novels—it’s got real potential to be a smash hit without as much costly CGI as The Way of Kings would require. The characters are relatable and we’d have some amazing action sequences mixed in with the infiltrations of the elite. The world is unique without being quite so alien as Roshar, and the dark, ash-laden city-scape would translate beautifully to film. Alternately heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, the story fluctuates between heist film and rebellion, with just enough romance, humor, and horror mixed in to appeal to almost everyone, fantasy fan or not. These were all contributing factors to this trilogy becoming one of the catalysts that launched Sanderson’s career. Not to mention, of course, the fact that this trilogy is complete. There would be no fear of the films out-pacing Sanderson’s writing, as would be a concern with The Stormlight Archive or what we’re seeing now in A Game of Thrones. (Though it would be entertaining to watch and see who could finish first—Brandon with his ridiculously fast writing speed, or the film industry!)
Before we get into the actual decisions, a little bit of discussion is required on certain overall aspects of the casting. As before, feel free to skip this part if you just want to get into the good stuff.
The first thing we discussed, as with our dream-cast of The Way of Kings, was racial makeup of the cast (insofar as it related to characteristics like hair, eye, and skin color). Overall, this was an easier film for our mostly American group to cast, as the racial makeup of Scadrial maps better onto the more familiar-to-us Western stable of actors and actresses than Roshar (which is meant to be more “alien”). Generally speaking, the skaa and nobles are described as Caucasian. The Terris are a more diverse bunch, with various skin tones—though we only really see one (Sazed) in the course of the first novel. As such, we decided to stick with a mainly Caucasian cast this time around, save for Sazed. We did not, however, limit our choices to an entirely white cast; instead we attempted to base our decisions on whichever actors or actresses we felt would do the best job with the part, to the best of our knowledge and abilities.
The second issue is that Mistborn (like many novels, movies, and TV shows) is somewhat lacking in characters of the female persuasion. This is a failing that Brandon himself has mourned, and has said that if he could go back and do it again, he’d probably choose to gender-flip a member of Kelsier’s crew in order to make the gender balance a little more even. As such, we’ve chosen to present two choices for a few of the characters—a canon entry, and a non-canon (gender-flipped) one. As was pointed out by braid_tug, the backstory and worldbuilding implications of some of these switches is a broad topic. We encourage fans to debate (politely, of course) these implications in the comments if they so choose, but we decided not to consider them for the purposes of this particular article, assuming that the script writers (or Brandon himself) would be better suited to make those decisions should the choice to gender-flip be made.
After some of the comments on The Way of Kings dream-cast, I feel that it’s important to stress again that this is a fun exercise by the fans, for the fans. We have absolutely no say in any possible real casting decisions. (Nor would I personally want any—I’m not sure I could handle that level of responsibility and accountability to the fanbase!) We’re just here to have fun and make some speculations, so let’s get started with the indomitable heroine of Mistborn, Vin! Take it away, Ross!
ROSS: Let’s start these picks off with the easiest choice of the bunch. Can anyone out there think of a boyish teenage girl with dark hair, able to alternately play the Sneak, the Lady, or the Righteous Warrior? And preferably well-known, with a solid multi-year acting gig under her belt?
Well, surprise! While Maisie Williams was in the running for our Vin (and actually near the perfect age right now), our group was afraid that she’s played Arya Stark so perfectly in HBO’s Game of Thrones that it might be difficult for viewers to watch her wield a Koloss sword taller than she is without constantly thinking Arya thoughts. Despite those reservations, Maisie still came in second in the Vin polling.
So, who makes a better Vin than Maisie? Meet Isabelle Fuhrman.
“Isabelle who?” you might ask, if you were the kind of person who didn’t implicitly trust things strangers tell you on the internet. Well, allow this stranger to educate you.
While Ms. Fuhrman hasn’t hit it big in a lead role in the brief time since she became an adult, she was more than convincing in her debut as a…troubled…little girl in Orphan, and, as throwing-knife specialist Career Tribute Clove in The Hunger Games, she continued her portrayal of homicidal adolescents and showed she can hold her own in complicated action scenes, as well. Plus, she had to wear a fancy dress for the Hunger Games evening wear round, so she’s totally got the ball gown thing in the bag!
Other Considerations: Maisie Williams, Ellie Kendrick
LYN: The group’s primary choice for the thieving crew’s charismatic leader is… (drum roll, please…)
Simon Baker! Simon’s most well known for his role as Patrick Jane in The Mentalist, a police procedural which aired from 2008-2015. It was this role which led us to consider him for the role of Kelsier. Not only does he have the hair (Kelsier’s described as being blond), the physique, and—most importantly—the smile, he’s capable of both deviousness and charm: necessities for a man attempting to convince a group of people to attempt the impossible. He’s also shown proficiency with depicting a character with a dark side and a mysterious past—Simon’s character in The Mentalist is hunting down the killer of his wife and daughter, a similar backstory to Kelsier’s, and he pulls it off wonderfully.
He’s 47, which is somewhat close to Kelsier’s 38 (especially since Simon looks younger than his age), and he’s 5’9″. Also, according to IMDB, his nickname is “Smiley.” How much more perfect does it get than that, for a man known for his constant smiles?
The only thing we were uncertain of is whether or not Simon could perform the more active side of the role. Kelsier’s a warrior, a distinguished Mistborn, and a certifiable badass. He’s got some truly epic fight scenes in The Final Empire, and we haven’t seen Simon in any roles which convince us of his ability to be a master of martial arts. But we haven’t seen him in any roles where he fails at this, either, so overall we’re cautiously optimistic that with the right trainer, he’d excel.
Runner-up: Matt Bomer (mainly for his roles in White Collar and American Horror Story: Hotel)
Other considerations: Ewan McGregor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Josh Holloway
ROSS: Elend will eventually grow to be a warrior and a leader, but in The Final Empire, he’s little more than a subversive, political book nerd. Vin first meets him at a ball—not on the dance-floor, mind you, but while he’s looking for a good place to hide and read. Our group decided, based on his portrayal of the title character in the BBC’s Merlin series, that Colin Morgan is the man for this particular job. He’s got the looks, the awkward charm, and, as he proved by the end of Merlin, he can do action, which will prove important in later installments of the series.
Other Considerations: Nicolas Hoult, Dylan O’Brien
LYN: Sazed is arguably the heart of the thieving crew—a calming force in the sea of chaos that Kelsier leaves in his wake. His adherence to preserving knowledge of the ancient religions gives him a somewhat esoteric, philosophical air, but he’s also capable of holding his own in a fight (providing that fight isn’t against a Steel Inquisitor, of course). He’s a member of the Terris race, and described as tall and long of limb, bald, and in his 40s.
Our choice for Sazed is Peter Mensah, most well-known for his roles in Spartacus: Gods of the Arena as Doctore (if you’re unfamiliar with the show, check out this video clip that shows off his softer side), Sleepy Hollow as The Hidden One, and 300 as the Messenger (you know, the guy who gets kicked into the big pit after the iconic “This… is… Sparta!” line). In addition to the fact that he physically looks the part, he brings a quiet dignity to many of his roles that would work beautifully for Sazed, who often serves as counselor and conscience for Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew.
From his role as Doctore, we also know that he can pull off the few fight scenes in the book with grace and lithe dangerousness.
Runner-up: Colin Salmon
Dockson (Canon Choice)
LYN: Dockson is the one member of Kelsier’s crew who isn’t a Mistborn or a Misting, and is one of Kelsier’s oldest friends. As such, he’s learned to put up with his charismatic friend’s eccentricities with grace and aplomb. He often poses as a nobleman, and is described as being in early middle age with a squarish face and stocky build.
This was a close race, resulting in a tie between two actors. The first is Colin Firth, most well known recently for his role as Galahad in Kingsman: The Secret Service. If you’ve seen the film or any of the trailers, you’ll likely remember him as the older gentleman whose signature line is “Manners maketh man.” He’s cool, calm, and collected and deals with each problem that arises (even bar fights) with grace and dignity, much as Dockson does. Firth is 56 and 6’1″, so he’d be a bit older and taller than our choice for Kell, but we don’t consider those to be deal-breakers.
Our other choice was the quintessential straight-man from the new Star Trek films—Karl Urban, who plays Doctor “Bones” McCoy. In this part, Urban deals with Captain Kirk in much the same manner that Dockson deals with Kelsier—namely, annoyance mixed with grudging affection. It’s worth noting that he also played Eomer in The Lord of the Rings, so we know he can pull off dark anger and grief. He’s a bit younger than Firth at 44 years old but he’s the same height (6’1″).
Other Considerations: Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen
Dockson (Non-canon Choice, Genderflip)
LYN: When considering a gender-flipped Dockson, our main concern was finding someone who could portray a sense of resigned yet annoyed loyalty. Only one choice was perfect for this, and that was the beautiful Gina Torres. Her relationship as Zoe with Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly is exactly how we all imagined Dockson dealing with Kelsier—often exasperated, usually with a smile, but always with loyalty. She’s 47 and could easily doll herself up for those noble parties or grunge it down for scenes with the skaa rebellion.
Hammond (Canon Choice)
ROSS: A trainer of soldiers. A powerful man with a surprising intellect. A secret Pewterarm. A family man whose primary failing as a general was that he cared too much about those who served under him. As long as the director could convince him to tame those flowing locks down to a military-appropriate fuzz, we believe Jason Momoa would make a fantastic Ham.
He’s shown off his muscles in a number of roles, from Conan the Barbarian, to Aquaman, to Khal Drogo, but if you take the time to track down off-screen interviews, you’ll find he’s quite articulate, with a very warm personality.
Tied for second place in our voting were Vin Diesel and Manu Bennett. Diesel’s muscle-y attributes are fairly obvious, and you wouldn’t necessarily think a guy who lives his life a quarter mile at a time would have the capacity for tenderness—but never forget that Dom Toretto’s number one priority is family.
Other Considerations: Tom Hardy
Hammond (Non-canon Choice, Genderflip)
ROSS: If the Powers That Be decided to gender-flip Hammond, you’d have to keep one main thing in mind. As a secret Pewterarm, Hammond needs to be powerfully built. Otherwise, it would be impossible to hide the occasional burst of inhuman strength.
Our team can think of nobody in current popular culture who personifies the powerful-yet-caring woman more than Gwendoline Christie.
Other considerations: Gal Godot
LYN: Breeze is the Soother of Kelsier’s crew, capable of using his powers to calm emotions and make people more amenable to his will. He’s described as a bit portly with black hair, usually impeccably dressed, and has a calm assurance and joking manner about him. He likes to come across as aloof and uncaring, but his actions over the course of the book prove him to be anything but.
Our choice for Breeze is Timothy Omundson. Ah, Tim O. My own personal first exposure to Tim was his small part as Cain in Supernatural, but I, and so many others, fell in love with him as the lovably daft King Richard in Galavant (I believe in you, Tad Cooper!). This actor is amazing—we firmly believe that he can pull off any role with ease. From the dark, troubled Cain to clueless King Richard to any myriad of smaller parts (he’s been in Seaquest 2023, Xena: Warrior Princess, Swordfish, Deadwood…), this man’s got range. He’d need to gain a bit of weight for this part, but that’s easily accomplished, and he’s just the right age at 47 years old.
Other considerations: Stephen Fry, Vincent D’Onofrio
Clubs (Canon Choice)
ROSS: When I think about casting Clubs, who comes across as a dour, pessimistic old root of a man, I can’t help thinking, Self; who would play the best angry, disappointed dad?
Admiral Adama from Battlestar Galactica. That’s who. Adama isn’t just disappointed because everyone was counting on you, and you failed. He’s also disappointed because you actually could have done it, but didn’t try hard enough. We feel that Edward James Olmos has the right age, the gnarled appearance, and the dour bearing to steal the show as the Smoker shopkeeper who helps hide the crew.
In addition, his skin tone would help bring variety to what is generally a fairly Western-European-looking cast of characters in Kelsier’s crew.
In a three-way tie for second were Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, Paul Blackthorne (Arrow, The Dresden Files), and the gnarled old root himself, David Bradley, whose portrayals of Argus Filch in the Harry Potter movies and Walder Frey on Game of Thrones have proven that he’s a natural Grumpy Old Man.
Clubs (Non-canon Choice, Genderflip)
LYN: When considering a gender-swapped choice for Clubs, we went in search of older actresses that could pull off Club’s trademark disdain and contempt. While we came up with several choices, one rose to the top, and that was Jessica Lange.
Jessica is most well known recently for her parts on the various seasons of American Horror Story, in which she’s played a scheming matriarch, a wicked nun in charge of a hellish asylum, the ruthless leader of a cult of witches, and a singer whose dreams of past glory are overshadowed by the stars of the circus she owns. In all of these parts she demonstrates an aptitude for the tough condescension and disdain so important for anyone who would hope to do the part of Clubs justice.
Other Considerations: Lucy Lawless, Alfre Woodard
ROSS: In The Final Empire, Spook has come from life on the streets. That background, plus his street name, conjure an image of a gaunt, pale teenager. Spook’s story later on, though, is one of duplicity, redemption, and heroism, and we feel no young actor fits that mold better than Asa Butterfield.
As Ender in 2013’s Ender’s Game, Asa showed that, though he’s a skinny kid, he acts like he’s got a spine of spring steel. It’s easy for me to imagine, staring into those soulful eyes, that he could grow into the “Survivor of the Flames.”
Other Considerations: Tom Holland, Ryan Potter
The Lord Ruler
LYN: The Lord Ruler, emperor of Luthadel and immortal madman, was an interesting character to consider for casting. While he’s technically Terris like Sazed, he’s also undergone a massive physical transformation upon his ascension to “godhood” and can make himself appear as old, young, handsome, or ugly as he chooses. We took into consideration this artwork by Ben McSweeney, who often provides canon artwork for Brandon Sanderson’s works (though it should be noted that this particular piece is not canon). Overall the characteristics that we decided to look for were:
Caucasian (can pass for a noble), tall, 20s-30s, lithe, with a well defined jawline and handsome face. Needless to say, about 25% of Hollywood falls into this category, but we narrowed our choices down and finally zeroed in on Tom Ellis for the role.
Tom is currently playing Lucifer Morningstar on FOX’s Lucifer, an adaptation of the DC comic of the same name. He’s also played Robin Hood on Once Upon a Time and Cenred on BBC’s Merlin, but it was his role in Lucifer that sealed the deal for us in regards to his ability to play the Lord Ruler. He excels at both haughty condescension and smarm, and is fully capable of oozing confidence every time he smiles. He can easily fall into the realm of dark menace that the Lord Ruler will need for some of the later scenes in the book. I’d be afraid to face him in a dark alley—or even a well-lit one. If you’re not sold, check out this scene (minor spoilers for season 1, episode 7 of Lucifer).
Other Considerations: Kevin Durand, Henry Cavill
ROSS: Kelsier’s brother Marsh will need a couple of key attributes to work on screen. Though both brothers have intense personalities, Kel always smiles, and Marsh never does.
If you showed me pictures of Simon Baker and our Marsh pick, Nic Bishop, side by side and told me they were brothers, I’d believe it in a heartbeat. And, while Nic has a charming smile when he turns it on, he can also ಠ_ಠ with the best of them, as shown here.
Other Considerations: Sean Maguire, Wes Chatham
LYN: Those of you who have read our dream-casting for The Way of Kings will remember that for that potential film, we cast Tom Hiddleston as Hoid. Now, while Hoid is a world-hopper and will be showing up in all of the Cosmere films, he often uses disguises and appears different on different worlds. Hoid’s part in The Final Empire is very small—he’s an informant who looks like a beggar, whom Kelsier doesn’t like. That’s about all we know.
We were torn on whether or not to cast different actors for each film, preferably with little hints for the viewer that he’s the same person, or whether we should continue to use Tom Hiddleston for each movie. As a matter of fact, we were split almost evenly down the middle on this issue.
Ultimately, for the purposes of this dream-cast, we’ll be going with a different actor (though he barely squeaked out a victory over good old Hiddles, with 6 votes to Hiddleston’s 5.)
We had a few choices here but overall our winner was John Hannah, who’s been in a myriad of different movies and shows including The Mummy, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He looks enough like an older Hiddleston (in the jaw and the shape of his face, mainly) that we feel that he could pass for a disguised Roshar-Hoid, and he’s also played enough dirty-dealing underhanded characters that he’d fit the part of the beggar to a T.
Runner-up: Tom Hiddleston
Other Considerations: Matthew McConaughey, David Tennant
Now that we’ve got the main cast out of the way, let’s go over a few casting choices for smaller parts. We considered quite a few minor characters for casting purposes, but only listed them here if everyone was absolutely sold on the actor or actress we chose. These are people who will show up only rarely—small cameo roles at best.
LYN: Yeden is the somewhat cantankerous leader of the skaa rebellion who initially hires Kelsier to create unrest in the city. We don’t have much of a physical description for him, so for this part we’re relying entirely on acting ability. Our choice is a somewhat relative unknown (at least until Star Wars: Rogue One is released)—Riz Ahmed. He blew us away in The Night Of, an HBO drama in which he portrays a young Pakistani American man accused of murder.
LYN: We don’t know much about the real Lord Renoux, since he’s being impersonated by the kandra Oreseur for the entirety of the book. He’s described as thin and aging, dignified, with a sparse grey mustache. His role in Kelsier’s plot is to watch over Vin, pretending to be her distant relative in order to secure her cover. Saul has theatrical experience in his past and is more recently known for his part in Warehouse 13, but most importantly, he just looks the part.
Shan Elarial—Katie McGrath
ROSS: Shan is a graceful, available young noblewoman, and also a coldblooded Mistborn assassin. Katie McGrath has played Morganna in the BBC’s Merlin and Lena Luthor in Supergirl, both roles which showed off her cold, calculating beauty and made her our unanimous choice.
Lord Straff Venture—Anthony Head
LYN: Lord Straff, Elend’s father, is perhaps best described as an uncaring, power-driven individual who cares little for anyone or anything outside of his own interests. Before anyone suggests it, we did consider Charles Dance. However, we discounted him as being too well-known in too similar a role. Instead, we came up with what we consider to be a stellar alternative—Anthony Head. If you’re thinking that he’s too good-natured, I’d point you towards his part in Merlin as Uther Pendragon, or even towards some of the darker scenes in Buffy (such as after Giles’s lover is killed in a sadistic manner by a certain vampire).
Tevidian Tekiel—Ralph Fiennes
LYN: Tevidian is the Lord Prelan of the Steel Ministry, and Vin’s father. He has a small part very late in the novel. We can assume that he sports the facial tattoos that mark those in the Steel Ministry, but other than that, we don’t know much about what he looks like. Ralph Fiennes would be an excellent choice for this despicable character— just look at his performances in Harry Potter as Lord Voldemort, or at his disturbing portrayal of the deranged killer Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon.
Jastes Lekal—Eddie Redmayne
LYN: Jastes is one of Elend’s friends, who enjoys speculating about philosophy and politics. We can assume that as of the events of The Final Empire, he’s somewhat like Elend—bookish and nerdy. A natural choice for the part is Eddie Redmayne, freshly off of his debut as Newt Scamander in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film. His part as Marius in Les Miserables was almost exactly how we imagine him in Mistborn.
Telden Hasting—Matt Bomer
LYN: Telden Hasting is another of Elend’s friends who are heavily invested in the philosophical aspects of leadership and government. Telden is described as being a bit of a dandy: always well dressed, relaxed, enviably attractive and a bit of a flirt with the ladies. Who better for this part than Matt Bomer? His roles (most notably in White Collar, though also in American Horror Story: Hotel and Magic Mike) usually revolve around his looks and undeniable charm.
Kar (Leader of the Steel Inquisitors)—Ben Kingsley
LYN: This one was the only of the secondary characters that wasn’t unanimous (or nearly so), but I feel so strongly about them both that I’m going to include the winner, along with the runner-up. The winner with 5/8 votes is Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley, with a close runner-up of Christopher Heyerdahl.
If you’ve seen Hell on Wheels, you’ll understand that Christopher is capable of some truly evil acting. This character was so despicable and so well-played that he’d give Joffrey a run for his money. He’s tall and imposing and can pull off the bald look with the best of them. But Ben Kinglsey eked out a victory here, and I believe the reason is two-fold—one, he’s a highly talented actor with an Oscar for his role as Gandhi (as well as 44 other various awards over his lifetime) under his belt, and two, he can be regal as well as evil.
And there you have it! Our humble (or not-so-humble) casting choices, submitted for your consideration, feedback, and rabid fan discussion. No choice of actor or actress will ever please everyone, but we hope that one or two of our picks struck a chord with you. Let us know how we did in the comments!
Other contributors to this article (part of the Sanderson beta reading team): Alice Arneson, Ted Herman, Nikki Ramsay, Jory Michael Phillips, Trae Cooper, Gary Singer, Mark Lindberg, Joel D. Phillips, and Deana Whitney.
When Lyndsey Luther’s not writing her own novels or beta-reading for Brandon Sanderson, she spends her time working on new and exciting cosplays or fire-spinning. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two dogs, neither of which is a kandra in disguise.
Ross Newberry is a software developer by day and a genre fiction writer, reader, ukulele and guitar player, and Boy Scout leader in his spare time. He lives in Roswell, GA with his wife and two sons.