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Suspending Your Belief: Age Before Beauty…

It’s strange, isn’t it, what will break our suspension of disbelief? I mean, we’ll accept (while watching Superman) that a man can fly around in his underwear, but the fact he advertises his weakness to kryptonite in a public interview is distracting. Or we’ll somehow buy into an archeologist who searches for the holy grail and encounters all manner of occult phenomenon, but when it comes to aliens extra-dimensional beings… well, a lot of us call foul. Still, I’ve been thinking a bit of late about the really quite weird fascination that movies seem to have with age and recasting.

Grasping at straws to keep Patrick Stewart on board...

It was announced last week that Dominic Cooper will appear in Captain America: The First Avenger as a younger version of the character played by John Slattery in Iron Man 2. The character appeared via recording from the sixties, which would set it about twenty years after his World War II appearance. Such recasting is quite frequent in time-jumping comic book movies and prequels. We found out last week that James McAvoy will replace Patrick Stewart in the prequel X-Men: First Class. Brian Cox found himself replaced by Danny Heuston for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I find it fascinating that we’ll accept heroes who can shoot lasers from their eyes or levitate objects with their minds, but the studios believe that we won’t be a slightly older actor in a role taht’s meant to be much younger.

I can understand why the studios might be hesitant, though. A disparity between the age of the actor and the character they play can lead to bit of mockery. Remember when Roger Moore played James Bond yet again in A View to a Kill, and ended up sleeping with a Bond girl young enough to be his grandaughter? Or when Sean Connery returned to the role of Bond after that for Never Say Never Again and people were quick to dismiss him as too old? Hell, TV Tropes has an article labeled Dawson Casting for all those shows which cast twenty-to-thirty-somethings as teenagers. And we mock it – it’s frequent fodder for comedy sketch shows or cartoons, for example – but do we really care that much? I mean, we mock the hell out of Star Wars and it’s still a classic of geek cinema, no?

So his characters -- what? 27, you say? maybe he's just had a rough life...

On the other hand, trying to mask the simple fact that your actor is old than the character at that point in their life can end up even more embarrassing. Actor Terry O’Quinn himself mocked the hairpiece they made him wear to play the younger Locke in Lost. When Patrick Stewart was technically “de-aged” via CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, his face looked like orange latex (it was the worst piece of CGI in a film populated with dodgy CGI). Hell, I remember the producers forcing him to wear a horrible wig at various points during Star Trek: The Next Generation to play a younger Picard. Hell, de-aging actors is so difficult that when casting Watchmen (which charted multiple characters over a forty-odd-year history), director Zach Snyder hired younger actors so he could use makeup and such to age them up rather than age them down.

So I don’t really have a big deal being asked, for example, to believe that Patrick Stewart is playing a man in his early thirties (okay, maybe playing a teenager would be pushing it). I realise I am likely in the minority on this, but I have no more difficulty being asked to suspend my disbelief on that than I did when Star Trek: The Next Generation asked me to believe he was French. Of course, a lot of this stems from my own conservatism when it comes to movies – I don’t like a change. If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In many – not all, mind you – cases, recasting a role means losing much of a given actor’s skill and charisma. For example, Danny Heuston just didn’t ooze the same sinister vibe as Brian Cox did in X-Men II. The problem is that new actor must choose either to offer an impersonation of the familiar “older” actor, or do their own thing in the role, which can (understandable) seem quite daunting.

On the other hand, I like James McAvoy and I think he’ll be fantastic. I just kinda liked the idea of an X-Men movie which focused around Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen being awesome opposite each other – McKellen finally getting a really leading performance is the reason I have been so looking forward to the oft-delayed X-Men Origins: Magneto spin-off. So, I don’t know.

This isn’t really a rant. It doesn’t make me angry, I just find it a little bit funny. I find it fascinating that studios don’t seem to believe that this is the kind of things that audiences could buy into.

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7 Responses

  1. That’s the thing I liked about Watchmen, how people like Carla Gugino could play any age fantastically, and you bought it. Et cetera.

    • Yep. And I have a bit of a crush on her. I’m not sure why (without being harsh, she isn’t the msot stunning woman on the planet), but there’s just something so…

      Anyway, enough about my strange attractions!

  2. McAvoy as young Xavier was ace casting, but I’m sure Stewart and McKellen will both appear together at some point in the story.

    • Hopefully. The two of them were awesome and were, in my opinion, the best things about the original films.

  3. This very thing – Huston replacing Cox – actually did make me angry. That’s why I loved seeing this blog…

    They could CGI Stewart at the end of the film, but they couldn’t do something similar with Cox?! Plus, while this prequel was supposed to take place…what 20 years prior? Huston isn’t 20 years his junior!

    Maybe it irks me because I’m such a Brian Cox fan. Or maybe it’s because I see through the Hollywood trick of ‘beauty before age’…

    Great blog by the way…

    • Thanks Sara. I think Cox is wonderfully underrated, and was just better in the role than Hueston. I don’t even need the CGI, to be honest.

  4. This very thing – Huston replacing Cox – actually did make me angry. That’s why I loved seeing this blog…

    They could CGI Stewart at the end of the film, but they couldn’t do something similar with Cox?! Plus, while this prequel was supposed to take place…what 20 years prior? Huston isn’t 20 years his junior!

    Maybe it irks me because I’m such a Brian Cox fan. Or maybe it’s because I see through the Hollywood trick of ‘beauty before age’…

    Great blog by the way…
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

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