As you know, Tor.com Bob (especially if you just clicked that link), the television rights to the Wheel of Time series have just been optioned by a major studio, this time with the approval of Robert Jordan’s estate. Which is pretty stupendous news if you’re a WOT fan. That doesn’t mean a WOT TV series is a fait accompli, of course, but it does mean that its existence is a hell of a lot more likely than it was just over a year ago – which, as you may recall, was when the whole Red Eagle/“Winter Dragon” alleged pilot debacle went down. (My thoughts on the subject at the time are at the beginning of this post.) But whatever, who cares about the legal technicalities of it all, when we can discuss the actual important conundrum now facing the fandom?
That conundrum being, of course (drumroll, please): casting. Dun-dun-DUN!
Who, WHO shall play our beloved (and not so beloved) Wheel of Time characters that we have been following for so very long? It’s a question that’s been fought over since the nineties, over and over again, but now we can start yelling at each other about it afresh, y’all! Yay!
Yes, well. Given that it is a given that any one person’s opinion on this matter will generate instant acrimony and debate, and also given that I adore a good clean acrimonious debate, and also also given that acrimonious debate re: the Wheel of Time specifically is kind of my thing ‘round these parts, there was naturally nothing for it except that I should weigh in on this Vry Srs Bsnss.
So gird your arguin’ loins, O my Peeps, and click on to find out What I Think!
Before we start, a few, uh, provisos, a couple of quid pro quos:
- There is an automatic moratorium on any actor who has already been cast in HBO’s A Game of Thrones. Because I said so, that’s why.
- This is not necessarily a “realistic” casting call. By which I mean, some of the actors I chose would probably never in a million years actually agree to be on the show, because they are Kind Of A Big Deal, but whatever, I can do what I want in my total pie-in-the-sky dream cast. (That said, I think many of my choices are actually quite doable in reality, so.)
- In the interests of not driving myself absolutely insane, I’m mainly concentrating on casting the characters who appear in the first book of the series, The Eye of the World, because otherwise we’d be here till the end of time. I might do a sequel post on characters we don’t meet until later in the series, but for now we’re mostly looking at who would be in the first season or so of our hypothetical TV show. This decision has had some unexpected consequences which I will discuss at the end of the post.
Got all that? Good! Let’s do this thang.
*rolls up sleeves*
So, obviously the first (and most difficult) casting challenge would be to determine who plays our WOT Protagonist Hero Starter Set, aka the Superboys and Supergirls, as I generally refer to them, aka our six-ish villagers (and/or odd royal heir, or both) who will start off young, naïve, and blissfully ignorant, go through Many Naïvete-Destroying Trials and Tribulations, and eventually evolve into fierce battle-hardened saviors of the Entire World. As I should hope would be obvious, casting the Super Young Persons is quite the difficult task, because in terms of a character arc, that’s a pretty big bill to fill for any actor, but even more so for an actor who must also be at least somewhat convincingly able to portray a teenager at the start of this thing. (Or in the case of Nynaeve, a 20-something whom everyone consistently mistakes for a teenager, owing to the age-slowing effects of being a magic channeler.)
Parenthetically, I also confess this provided a particular challenge to me personally, as I am, er, well, not exactly a teenager anymore, and most of the actors and actresses I used to favor for these roles (like, back in the nineties. Shut up. And also get off my lawn) have very much aged out of consideration by this point. I don’t think I am totally out of touch with what the Youth of Today are doing (though the very existence of this sentence probably gives that the lie), but let’s just say the Disney Channel is not on my Favorites list these days. But I did my best, y’all, I swear.
(Note: This casting post originally appeared on Tor.com in May 2016 and its comments section contains many more casting suggestions.)
Of all our protagonists, of course, the premier consideration would be who to cast in the role of Rand al’Thor, upon whose shoulders would ultimately rest the heart and soul of the show. And after much soul- (and Google Images-) searching, in the end, I went with:
I don’t mind telling you, I had serious trouble choosing someone for this pivotal role. But Nicholas Hoult is a veteran of SF movies and TV, and I loved him in the films Warm Bodies and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both of which, incidentally, prove he can pull off an eerily compelling combination of crazy/disturbing yet appealing, a talent I think anyone playing Rand al’Thor definitely needs in spades. I feel like he has both the looks (he could totally pull off reddish hair) and the acting ability to portray WOT’s unwilling Messiah figure. At 27 he is a little old, perhaps, but he plays younger very well. (And at 6’3”, he’s definitely tall enough for the role too.)
Next up we have Matrim Cauthon, the lovable rogue gambler/fighter/lover of our Superboy trio. Mat is more or less my favorite character in the series, and therefore I could go with no less than my favorite young actor in the world at this moment:
Teen Wolf is a terrible, terrible show, but Dylan O’Brien’s rise to fame because of it was entirely warranted, in my opinion, because he was always about a million times better than the material he was given to work with. His leading role in the Maze Runner film trilogy demonstrates his ability to play a badass, but it’s his portrayal of Stiles in Teen Wolf that shows off, almost against the show’s will it seems, his serious acting chops in both the comedic and dramatic arena. Certainly his personal charisma is off the charts, if Tumblr’s obsession with him is anything to judge by (he was the sixth most reblogged actor on Tumblr in 2015, beating out the likes of no less than Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, and Benedict Cumberbatch). Maybe no one else would agree, but personally I think he would make a great Mat.
And then there’s Perrin Aybara, blacksmith, Wolfbrother, and axe-wielding heavy of the three boys. I admit I drew a total blank on casting Perrin for quite a while, until Sister Kate suggested this guy:
He’d have to bulk up for the role, of course, but otherwise Penn Badgley is pretty much exactly what I picture in my head for Perrin’s appearance. I confess I never watched Gossip Girl, his most well-known role (though I looked at some clips before writing this), but I loved him in Easy A. And apparently he can pull off a beard, which is naturally of utmost importance for a Perrin!
And now, the Supergirls!
First up is my favorite Ooh Ooh Girl, Egwene al’Vere, whom I believe is the youngest of our Starter Set, and thus was very difficult to cast. But I think I found just the girl for it:
No one who’s seen her play Hit Girl in Kick-Ass could doubt that Chloë Grace Moretz can, well, kick ass, or at least play a girl who can, and it’s that combination of her look of sweet innocence and her demeanor of steely resolve that I think makes her perfect to play Egwene. And at 19, she’s realistically about as young an actress as you could possibly hope to find to play the character.
Second is Elayne Trakand, everyone’s favorite bath- risk-taking, chin-raising, unfairly pretty Daughter-Heir. I had a lot of trouble with her, but finally settled on a perhaps somewhat unconventional choice:
I am of the considered opinion that Saoirse Ronan can pull off just about any role she sets her mind to with perfection, up to and including playing a headstrong, pure-hearted queen-to-be like Elayne. Of course, as a two-time Academy Award nominee by the age of 22, Ronan is not very likely to take on a role in an upstart fantasy TV series, but hey, I can dream, can’t I?
Last but definitely not least of our Hero Starter Sextuplet Set is Nynaeve al’Meara, probably my overall favorite female character in the series, and by far the most difficult for me to cast of any of them, even Rand. I agonized over this one, y’all, no lie.
I really would have loved for her to be played by Emily Blunt, but at 33 Blunt is just too old, sadly. Nynaeve may be in her mid-twenties at the start of the series, but far too much of her character development hinges on her resentment of looking younger than her actual age to risk casting an actress who might actually appear older than her actual age.
So, after approximately 300 hours of Googling and arguing with everyone in range about it (seriously, my entire family has ended up embroiled in this debate, even those relatives who have never actually read the series), I finally tentatively settled on yet another perhaps non-intuitive choice:
Now granted, at 27 Emma Stone is probably too old for the role as well, but I decided I don’t care, because I frickin’ adore Emma Stone, and I seriously could not come up with anyone else who I felt could remotely play Nynaeve with anything like both the conviction and, most importantly, humor her character deserves. (I have always felt that Nynaeve needs to be played by an actress with strong comedic talents; otherwise it would be far too easy to render her hopelessly and unfairly unlikeable.) If it comes down to picking some young thing who could never hope to do Nynaeve justice, or picking Emma Stone, well, I know which one I’d go with. NO CONTEST.
All right! And now that our Super Young Persons are done with, it’s time to turn to the rest. So, going roughly by order of appearance in The Eye of the World…
KIDDING! I’m kidding, calm down. Hahaha the look on your face.
But seriously, for Crazy Flame Face I’d have to go with my man Rufus Sewell.
I’ve loved him ever since Dark City, and he’s proven adept at playing believable – and believably scary – villains in multiple productions, including most recently as a Nazi commandant in the miniseries The Man in the High Castle. There’s probably a whole bunch of actors who would be a great Ishy, honestly, but I’d love to see Sewell do it.
(As a side note, I didn’t bother to cast Lews Therin Telamon, because honestly we only ever see him once in the entire series, and anyway my casting muscles were plumb worn out by the time I remembered about him. Sowwy.)
I really tried not to poach from the Teen Wolf stable again, I swear, but…
C’mon, is that a careworn yet sturdy father figure or is that a careworn yet sturdy father figure? Plus, don’t forget that back in the day Linden Ashby was also Johnny Cage, y’all. MORTAL KOMBAT!
I didn’t even get a chance to debate with myself about who should play Moiraine, because Sister Liz was instantly like OMG NO I KNOW WHO, and dragged me to her computer to Google this lovely lady:
British actress Janet Montgomery has racked up a pretty impressive CV in the SF or SF-adjacent arena, including roles in Black Swan, the BBC series Merlin, and most recently as the lead in the currently-running cult series Salem, playing the imperious and powerful witch Mary Sibley. I have not watched this series myself (though I suspect Sister Liz has planned a binge-fest for my near future whether I want one or not), but I’ve looked at some clips, and damn. If you want someone to play a mysterious, regal, and ambiguously threatening magic-wielding woman, I say you need look no further than Ms. Montgomery. And she is a dead ringer for the description of Moiraine we get in the books.
Side note: it later came to my attention that Montgomery actually played Nicholas Hoult’s love interest in the British series Skins back in 2008, which is… heh, a little awkward, if Hoult is Rand? But, whatever. That’s not even close to the strangest dissonance/ridiculousness I’ve seen in Hollywood casting. (Six words: Sean Connery playing Harrison Ford’s father.)
My pick for Lan will be, I suspect, a little controversial to some:
This is not, to be certain, how Lan has ever been portrayed in WOT artwork, professionally or in fandom, but given that Malkieri/Borderlander culture is so heavily flavored with Eastern/Asian influences, I felt like it was justified. Then, too, is the fact that Ken Watanabe’s inclusion provides a much-needed bit of diversity in what I belatedly realized is a painfully lily-white lineup thus far (more on that later).
And anyway, if you want an actor who can play an older, world-weary, yet effortlessly hard-core warrior samurai dude, Ken Watanabe is unquestionably your man. It works, y’all. Fight me.
I went through a whole roster of older actors who I thought could convincingly play the crouching gleeman, hidden badass that is Thom, including but not limited to Patrick Stewart, Dennis Quaid, and Steve Martin (no, really). Stewart would normally be perfect for the role (my mother, a lifelong Trekkie, campaigned relentlessly for him, heh), but at 75 I feel like he is just a hair (haha) too old to be pulling off tumbling and juggling and fighting Myrrdraal and so on.
And anyway, then Google gave me this picture:
And I was like, well, okay then. Jeff Bridges already is Thom Merrilin, who knew.
Oh, you think I’m kidding with Paul Reubens, do you.
I wanted to resist pulling from the Twilight crowd, y’all, I really did, but:
Sorry, but Ashley Greene with a pixie cut is the spitting image of how I have always pictured Min in my head, so I couldn’t pass it up. Also, I feel like Greene is probably way better an actress than her material in the Twilight movies allowed her to be, so it would be cool to give her a chance to branch out, you know?
Sam Elliott. DUH.
Okay, yes, I’m aware that casting Hagrid to play our favorite Ogier is ridiculously on the nose. But if y’all can come up with anyone else besides Robbie Coltrane (anyone alive, that is) who could remotely play Loial to justice, I’m all ears. (If Andre the Giant was still around it’d be a no-brainer, but sadly that is not the case.)
Most people know Hunter Parrish best from his portrayal of Silas on Weeds, and honestly that alone should be enough to convince you of his acting chops. Gawyn makes me bang my head against hard objects more than probably any other character in WOT, but there’s no denying that he is a complex and angsty deeply conflicted character, who needs an actor of Parrish’s caliber to pull his drama off, otherwise he’d be a trainwreck. Plus it doesn’t hurt that I would absolutely buy that he is Saoirse Ronan’s brother. Scroll back up and look at her picture if you don’t believe me.
So I says to myself, “Self,” I says, “If you needed to pick an actor who’s made a career of playing stiff, arrogant assholes who are secretly, deep down, actually kinda big damn heroes once you get past all the terrible personality defects – oh, and also is almost unnaturally man-beautiful, as in drop-dead gorgeous, who would you pick?”
“Oh, you’d pick Colton Haynes, would you?” I says.
“Yep,” says me.
Julianne Moore. Because, Julianne Moore. *helplessly gestures at all the awesome*
Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan
It might almost be a waste of a Lucy Lawless to make her Elaida, but there’s no doubt she could play the hell out of the character, and at this point no fantasy or fantasy-adjacent TV series is complete without her. The WOT TV Powers That Be may not choose to cast Lawless in this particular role, but they damn well better cast her somewhere, by gum. Anything else would be a crime. This I Foretell.
In keeping with my theory that the Borderlands are more Asian-influence than they are anything else, I thought Jet Li would do quite well for the role of General Jagad. The character is described as merely “hard-faced”, with a topknot of pure white, in the book, which leaves it pretty open to interpretation. This picture is from 2006 (his performance in Fearless), and Li is featured with a queue rather than a topknot, but I felt like it got the impression across of how he would look as Agelmar, especially now that he is ten years older.
* * *
Aaand that’s where I’m gonna stop for now. I’m pretty sure that the only other major characters in TEOTW I haven’t cast yet are the Green Man, who will almost certainly be a CGI character, and Balthamel and Aginor, who will be on screen for like two minutes tops before being most decidedly killed, and will be either in a mask or covered in extreme old age makeup, respectively, for that whole time anyway. I’m much more interested in their later incarnations as Osan’gar and Aran’gar, from a casting standpoint. But not now, jeez.
If I’ve missed anyone, of course, I’m sure that you guys will let me know. (Okay, Tallanvor. But really, whatever with Tallanvor. And Geofram Bornhald and Jaret Byar, but ugh, whatever with them too.) I figure this is more than enough to get the massive bouts of indignation rolling, anyway.
Before we end, though, there is something that must be addressed, as I mentioned earlier, and that is the general total lack of diversity in the cast I’ve chosen here. There is no getting around the fact that other than Ken Watanabe and Jet Li, every single actor I’ve selected thus far is white.
And that’s on me, and I will take my licks for it if need be. But I decided not to change it, and for better or worse, here’s my reasoning on why:
The Eye of the World, being as it is Robert Jordan’s homage to the beginning of Tolkien’s saga Lord of the Rings, is very much set in the medievalish fantasy equivalent of the bucolic English countryside. The Two Rivers, from whence Our Heroes mostly hail, may not quite be the Shire, but that’s mainly just accounting for a different height average among its denizens than hobbits typically rejoice in. And once Our Heroes leave the Shire Two Rivers, they end up in the less-bucolic-but-no-less-English-like city of Caemlyn, which is basically Camelot with the serial numbers filed off, if the Arthuriana-esque names of its ruling family (Elayne, Morgase, Gawyn, Galad, hello) are anything to judge by.
All of which is another way to say that the setting of TEOTW, at least, is very, very white. And by limiting myself to only casting the characters of the first novel, I sort of by default limited myself to the characters who are least arguably anything other than white as well.
In Jordan’s defense, though (and mine, I suppose), once he felt he’d fulfilled his Tolkien homage quota and moved on to expanding his world and getting his main cast out of England Andor, it immediately became about ten million times more diverse, and from The Great Hunt onward we will get to meet all kinds of people who are explicitly described as and/or can be interpreted to be many things other than Caucasian/European/white. And in a way, this can be interpreted as a perhaps unconscious commentary on the evolution of Our Heroes from naïvete to maturity, in that they start out with the expectation that everyone should be like they are (or look like they do), and find that in fact, the real world beyond their narrow borders is far more complex and varied than they had always been led to believe.
For example, we won’t meet Faile Bashere until the third novel, The Dragon Reborn, but she is destined to become a major character who is clearly not described as white. So I cheated, just to even out the field a little, and picked out an actress for her:
Natasha Liu Bordizzo only has one credit to her name so far, but it’s a lead role, as “Snow Vase” in the just-released Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, a sequel to the 2000 movie. (I’ve watched it on Netflix. It’s pretty good! Even though I find it disconcerting that it is in English.) Bordizzo is very impressive in it, and I think she would make a great Faile.
Granted, this does not ultimately detract from the problematic truth that the beginning of the WOT TV series, as I have cast it, would be overwhelmingly Euro-centric, and perhaps the acknowledgment that the cast would become increasingly less Euro-centric as the series progresses is not sufficient to compensate for that. That is for others to judge. I will say that I welcome suggestions for alternate casting decisions which mitigate that possibly skewed perspective.
In other words, have at, my peeps. Whether you disagree with me on ethnic grounds or disagree with me on entirely different grounds, or even in the amazing event that you think all my casting choices are wonderful and perfect (haha, yeah right), I wanna hear from you. Who, WHO should be in the Wheel of Time TV series? Let the good clean acrimonious debate begin!
Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger, and acrimonious debate-haver, who has of recent times conducted the Wheel of Time Reread and the Read of Ice and Fire on Tor.com, and has something even more fun on the horizon for y’all, just you wait, Henry Higgins!