Casting the Ideal Hero in Favourite Stories

The ideal hero? The Libertà blog has included a number of posts about heroes, most recently one I wrote about whether a plumber can be a hero. Also posts about villains, who can be more than a little droolworthy, especially when played by Alan Rickman.
Just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. 😉

Alan Rickman as Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

Today I want to ask about casting your ideal hero in the movie of a favourite book. Any book you choose. Maybe even one you’ve written yourself?
The key question is: who is going to play your hero? And why?

woman searching for her ideal hero

Ideal hero in Gone With The Wind?

Poster for Gone with the Wind filmScarlett O'Hara in Gone With The WindFor example, Sophie recently blogged, in a more serious context, about Gone With The Wind. The hero, Rhett Butler, was played by Clark Gable in the film. (Yes, I know Sophie reckons Butler was “a spiv, a blockade runner, a bully and a rapist.” Ergo, not a hero. But a lot of cinema-goers did see Butler as a romantic hero, even though Sophie never could.)

Was Clark Gable the right man for the part? David O Selznick is said to have wanted Gable—and to have delayed filming by two years in order to get him—but was he the ideal hero?
Apparently Gary Cooper was also considered at one stage.
Might Cooper have been better?
More appropriate?
Might he have seemed less of a spiv? (That one’s for Sophie, but feel free to have your say, too.)

Gable and Leigh in GWTW

Gable and Leigh in Gone with the Wind

Gary Cooper, the ideal hero? In For Whom The Bell Tolls with Ingrid Bergman

Bergman and Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls

A bit of extra background here, in case it helps you make up your mind.
Wikipedia contradicts itself over this. The GWTW entry says Clark Gable was Selznick’s first choice; the Gary Cooper entry says Cooper was Selznick’s first choice, but turned it down. It quotes Cooper as saying:

“I said no. I didn’t see myself as quite that dashing, and later, when I saw Clark Gable play the role to perfection, I knew I was right.”

So what’s your verdict there? Does Rhett Butler have to be dashing? Or a bit of a spiv? Or perhaps both? Which of these two fits your bill here? Or would you pick someone else entirely?

Clark Gable, ideal hero? Gary Cooper, ideal hero?

Ideal Hero for The Grand Sophy?

Now, this one is a bit of a poser. As some of you will know, because I wrote a love letter to The Grand Sophy, it’s one of my favourite Georgette Heyer books. I think the heroine is terrific. But the hero?

Charles is the heir in an aristocratic family that lives beyond its means, largely because of a gambler father and a weak-willed mother. Charles, being the responsible eldest son, has good reason for trying to make his family economise, but he does come across as dictatorial. Sophy declares she would not allow her own father to become like him.

As well as being an autocrat, Charles has terrible taste in women, having become engaged to the very eligible but uptight and humourless Miss Wraxton; and he has missed the obvious signs of distress in two of his siblings which has distanced him from them. A host of missteps, in fact.

So far, not very heroic?

Sophy teases Charles and sometimes mortifies him, too. She astonishes him with steely resolve and clever machinations. But it is her gentle kindness that finally gets through to him, when she’s nursing his little sister, and which makes him realise her loves her.
Zen calm

A bit slow on the uptake? Again, not very heroic?

Which actor could play Charles and make him fit all of these conflicting roles? Peremptory and quite abrasive at the start and then softening, but honourable with it? (Of course, Sophy’s greyhound approves of Charles from their first meeting which does suggest he has something that’s not necessarily obvious…).

I think I might give my vote to Richard Armitage, largely because of his performance in the TV series of North and South where the character has similar conflicts and, like Charles, starts off having little time for the unconventional heroine. But what do you think?

Richard Armitage as Thornton in North and South, an ideal hero?

Your ideal Hero?

Now it’s over to you. Do you have a favourite book and an actor that you’d love to see playing the hero’s role? It doesn’t matter if the actor in question is already dead (like Alan Rickman) or too old for the part now. You’re welcome to suggest a young Robert Redford if you want to. Please do share your thoughts and choices. (And enjoy the eye-candy below, of two heroes in their prime. Plus one for a giggle)

Jonas Kaufmann as Otello  

Jonas Kaufmann in Verdi’s Otello and Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. Oh yes, and Baldrick…

Joanna Maitland, author

From Joanna, trying not to laugh…

18 thoughts on “Casting the Ideal Hero in Favourite Stories

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Gary Cooper never did it for me. Gable made the role his so it’s difficult to see anyone else doing it. Charles is much more tricky. There’s very little gentleness in him so one of these broody actors might work best. Mark Strong perhaps who botched up Knightley but that autocratic attitude would work for Charles. Or Ciaran Hinds. Oh, I know. Martin Shaw.
    All too old now but younger Shaw would have killed it.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Really interesting, Liz. When I think of Ciaran Hinds I always remember him in Persuasion where I thought he was the wrong choice. But as Charles, he might have worked, I agree. Younger Martin Shaw? Yes, I think so, too. I would have bet money that, with your acting background, you would nail this.

      1. Elizabeth Bailey

        That’s so funny because I loved Ciaran Hinds in Persuasion, but he was an awful Rochester.
        Thanks on the acting background thing. Not sure it qualifies me to judge! I have such trouble remembering names that there are probably half a dozen candidates I’ve missed because I can’t think who they are!

        1. Joanna Post author

          Doesn’t that just go to show how different audiences are? No casting director will ever please everyone. BTW I’m just as bad as you on names. Anno domini, I fear…

        2. Liz

          I loved that version of Persuasion too, Liz. So much better than the very pretty one with Rupert whatisname with all that running about and silly ending.

  2. Sophie

    My mother always said that the whole world wanted Clark Gable. He was the perfect half way between Errol Flynn dashing and, yes, Gary Cooper taking charge. And he could be convincingly witty, which neither of other two did, really.

    Charles? Well, he’s carrying a lot of issues from his childhood and being very responsible and, yes, a bit ruthless in his adult life. Doesn’t expect to fall in love. Quite an overlap with Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. Might work.

    But what I would really like to see is Paul Bettany’s Scarlet Pimpernel. Lovely light touch, distinctly hidden depths. Perfick’

    1. Joanna Post author

      Gosh. The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now that IS a story to let a romantic hero shine. I wouldn’t have thought of Paul Bettany but now you’ve put the idea into my head…

  3. lesley2cats

    I’m useless at this. I can see Charles in my head quite clearly, but I can’t put an actor there. You have reminded me, though, Joanna, that I have the DVD of North and South somewhere, which is a Very Good Thing. The only actor/hero that popped into my head usn’t very glamorous, but I love him. Jamie Parker, who first came to the public’s notice inThe History Boys on stage, then film and ended up as the original Harry in The Cursed Child. He’d be my perfect Freddie.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Not useless at all, Lesley. You’ve just come up with your perfect Freddie for another Heyer (Cotillion). Heyer heroes — especially what she called her Beta heroes — wouldn’t want glamorous actors in any case, I’d have thought. Her Alpha heroes probably would. Sylvester, anyone? I’m wondering about a younger Robert Lindsay there…

  4. Louise Allen

    Alan Rickman, Sean Bean and Richard Armitage – top contenders. My heroes all have a tendency to look like Professor Michael Scott – brains & looks…

  5. Joanna Post author

    Ah yes. Michael Scott. He was on BBC4 last night, after Young Montalbano. Unfortunately, I’d imbibed too much post-conference wine and was falling asleep by then, so didn’t last the course… Something for catch-up TV.

  6. Melinda Hammond

    Characters in books are so personal to the reader, don’t you think? TV/Film adaptations rarely come up to expectations. Remember the tv adverts for a certain chocolate where you never saw the face of the “man in black” – because they wanted their audience to add on their own favourite. Having said that, the hero choices mentioned so far are all highly acceptable as far as I am concerned, although for Charles, my own choice would be a young(er) Timothy Dalton.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Interesting, Melinda. Wouldn’t have thought of Dalton but I can see how he might fit. Agree the chocolate ad was very clever. Isn’t that why so many of us recoil from the casting of a favourite book? Maybe that’s why I didn’t like Ciaran Hinds in Persuasion, because he wasn’t the hero I’d pictured in my mind?

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