Sunday, 16 August 2015

Casting charisma

Some roles cast themselves

The last day of the summer holiday is a difficult, listless sort of time. The last free moments are precious, but it's hard not to fritter them away brooding on the mundane tasks to be tackled, like the waiting outlook inbox and the fucking ironing. Well, the hell with it. There's half a duty-free Toblerone in the fridge, and as long as there's a triangle left I consider the holiday still on. Let Monday wait.

Instead, here are a few thoughts on some of the TV that's been flickering on Mrs and Mr Wallace's box this year, most of which was consumed over late dinners during what's been a tiring 2015. Light telly has been an essential antidote to punishing work schedules, so while series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad went unfinished, and meaty fare like True Detective and House of Cards passed us by, weak minestrone like

24: Live Another Day 

found its way onto our plates.

24's nag was flogged to a pulpy skeleton well before this latest retread, and Live Another Day felt every bit as tired as you might expect, rolling out the same knackered old nonsense we've seen too many times.

The only thing that held our interest through the slow early episodes were one or two stand out performances. This is a common trick for 24, which has a distinguished history of casting interesting actors - helping it to overcome flabby middle sections and pedestrian scripting through sheer force of personality.

The likes of Penny Johnson, Joaquim De Almeida, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Gregory Itzin kept audiences coming back for more, and Live Another Day is no different.

Michelle Fairley, Michael Wincott and William Devane make it just about worth persisting. Their talents are utterly wasted (it really is poor when you give the President Alzheimer's and fail to make anything of it) but they provide just enough energy to drag the wheezing Bauer vehicle over the finish line. I'm not saying 24 gets everything right (Stephen Fry is just horrible as the Prime Minister) but you have to at least give the show credit for going all-out to cast charisma. Other shows like


fail badly in these stakes.

Someone who may or may not be related to me is a huge fan of this show, and I have watched a fair bit as a consequence. Don't get me wrong, I know this show is not intended for me, but it grates how little strength is to be found among the players - with the honourable exception of Hayden Panettiere, who has tremendous fun chewing up her supporting cast and spitting their flesh at the camera.

Are you my lunch?
It's a frustrating ensemble. Nobody is expecting quality storytelling from escapist hooey like this, but the producers could learn a lot from 24, casting one or two parts on the basis of magnetism as opposed to gorgeousness.

The part of Teddy Conrad, a scandal-stained Nashville politician, is a case in point. It's played by Handsome University graduate, Eric Close, who just doesn't have the chops for the gig. This is perplexing, after the show so quickly dispensed with the services of Powers Boothe, a man who fair sweats sleaze and regret. The writers obviously felt there wasn't room for two politicians: fine, but who the hell voted to keep Close? Boothe could have ruled this thing alongside Panettiere while the pretty folk played their rubbish country. Instead Nashville's makers couldn't wait to kill him off, preferring to invest all baddie duties in the part of Jeff Fordham.

OK, fine, but there are two problems with such a move: First, nobody called Jeff can be intimidating. Second, they again recruited poorly. Oliver Hudson isn't terrible, but in the absence of good lines the part cries out for a heavyweight, a pillar of strength to help Panettiere prop up all the flimsy glitz. James Woods, nut that he is, was surely available? Failing that, Peter Weller? Bill Duke? Michael Ironside? Carl Weathers? I'm just flicking through IMDB here...Might an older, grizzled face help balance all that wretched youth and glamour?

The trick of good casting, surely, is to make a part feel written with the actor in mind, regardless of pedigree. Maybe unknown or unexpected choices could have worked just as well. That is certainly the case with


which was recommended by the brother. At first its casting choices seem deeply odd. I recalled seeing posters for it on the Underground and instantly dismissing it, on what seemed like decent grounds.

Johnny Lee Miller's brilliant turn in Trainspotting never progressed into an interesting movie career, and Lucy Liu, save a great appearance in Futurama, only flickered on the radar for dated telly like Ally McBeal and nightmare pictures like Charlie's Angels. Further, transplanting Sherlock Holmes to modern day New York conjured up all manner of scornful preconceptions.

Then we watched the first season and it all made perfect sense. Theirs are the only parts that really matter (although Aidan Quinn provides decent back-up and could clearly do a lot more) and their unlikely pairing just clicks. It seems like the most natural thing in the world after the first episode, but really it was a brave move to put these two together, a risk that pays off handsomely. Their rapport is crucial to the success of the show, elevating it from the white noise of formulaic US crime TV into addictive, watchable fun. If you haven't seen it and need something easy on the little grey cells, do check it out. It'll give you solid evening entertainment, and perhaps make you appreciate the unsung art of Casting Direction all the more.


  1. Timothy Dalton in Penny Dreadful is a great piece of casting radiating the same masculine strength and authority as Charles Dance, it's a great shame that show and many others are so appallingly written.

    It seems odd given the massive increase in budgets and production values generally that more quality writers are not working on these shows.

    BTW you forgot Lucy Liu in Payback which is a great movie.

    1. Ooh I haven't seen Dreadful, but Dalton is enough to get me interested. You're right, I forgot Payback, Liu is good in that. She makes acting look effortless, and all the harder for those around her.

  2. And Sean Pertwee is great fun as Lestrade...

    1. Pertwee is in everything, doing exactly the same performance, bless him. I would quite like to see Pertwee's Hamlet