As casting news for the J. J. Abrams Star Trek continues to be released, amidst much fan discussion, derision, anticipation, and debate, Iâ€™m quite fascinated by the anticipatory joys of casting, and of what this says of stars as texts, intertexts, and brands.
Significant pleasure exists simply from combining actors and projects in oneâ€™s head. Who would you cast in the Star Trek movie? Or, if Trek isnâ€™t your thing, pick any movie and recast it, pick your favorite novel or comic book and think of who youâ€™d cast in the movie version, or simply think of who youâ€™d like to replace in an existing television show or movie. Speaking personally, for instance, I remember well the joys of discussing who should play whom when Lord of the Rings and X-Men were announced; and though I liked X-Men, I probably had more fun casting the film than watching it. Even hearing about upcoming new filmsâ€™ casting can be intriguing (a buddy film with Dolly Parton and Snoop Dogg?? A new drama with Kevin Spacey, Steve Carell, Javier Bardem, and Denzel Washington? Etc.)
Hence, in part, the huge industry of entertainment magazines, television shows, and websites that peddle casting information, and â€œexclusivesâ€ on what projects are occurring. See Comingsoon.net, in particular. And hence in part the popularity of trailers, not only ensuring that many an audience member gets to the theatre twenty minutes early, but also that many go surfing for trailers online, making trailer viewing one of the more common activities on YouTube, IFilm, and company.
What the joys of speculative casting seem to speak to, on one hand, is the degree to which star images can operate as texts independent of even a film, scandal, or latenight talk show as site, and, on the other hand, the significant pleasures of anticipation.
Regarding star image, though it is the acting projects and public appearances that largely author the star as text, the meaning and utility of that text extend far beyond those projects and public appearances. Stars come to represent ideas, ways of being, styles of acting, beloved or detested genres, political causes, personal motifs, and so forth, all or many of which have value and meaning outside of the moments of performance.
This then leads to the pleasures of anticipation, since combining actors is an act of combining these ideas, ways, styles, genres, causes, motifs, and so forth. While not as dramatic or camp as the late television show Celebrity Deathmatch, there is nevertheless the element of a battle of images and texts. Or a dance and an intricate, artful mixing (Dancing with the Stars?). Much of the most important cultural work of stories lies in how they make us think or conceive of the world, and thus anticipation of stories, and of casting combinations, often engages front-on with that cultural work. While we contemplate what it would be like for Pacino and Keaton to share a scene again, for instance, their acting histories to date are summoned, complete with potentially all of the textual meanings of their work, and thus the contemplation of what we think of such casting stands to invoke and focus a vast collection of textual responses.
In this respect, thinking about casting, and playing the casting game, can be quite stunningly intricate tasks, important correlates to the work of stories, even if they seem mundane and trivial. It can be fun to play this game not just because it can quickly get silly (my all-time favorite being someoneâ€™s pre-Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings suggestion that Calista Flockhart should play Golem), but also because itâ€™s in the thinking about casting that we continue the work of stories.
With this in mind, hereâ€™s the task. Recast Star Wars. Or find a fresh cast for a West Coast Avengers or Excalibur film. Or any other project. Clive Owen as Captain Britain, and James Marsters as Nightcrawler, perhaps? Or Christian Bale as Han Solo? Clint Eastwood as Obi-Wan Kenobi? Okay, just kidding with that last one. Your thoughts?