Recasting TV Characters

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26 August 2014.

With the first episode of Doctor Who starring Peter Capaldi hitting the small screen (and the big screen for the truly addicted) this past Sunday, let’s have a wander through my top 4 least successful recasting of characters in the world of television.

For the record, I thought Deep Breath was a solid start for the twelfth Doctor and I’m looking forward to enjoying Capaldi’s prickly, all business Time Lord.

4. The First Doctor – Doctor Who: To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original run of Doctor Who, a feature episode was produced in 1983. The Five Doctors was to reunite all five lead actors. Unfortunately, Tom Baker refused to participate so footage from the unaired story Shada was slotted in instead. The original Doctor William Hartnell had passed away in 1975 and was replaced by Richard Hurndall. Although endorsed by Hartnell’s widow, Hurndall portrayal of the acerbic first Doctor is the least believable aspect of the special, despite the wobbly sets and rubbery aliens. Hurndall passed away in the same year, supposedly before he was paid for the role.

3. Catwoman – Batman: If Batman is the world’s greatest detective, why was he incapable of noticing when his arch nemesis Catwoman changed from white actress Julie Newmar to black cabaret songstress Eartha Kitt in the campy TV series which ran from 1966-1968? Catwoman even changed again to the white Lee Meriwether for the movie. I suppose she was wearing a mask.

2. Becky – Roseanne: For the first five seasons of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom, daughter Becky was played by Lecy Goranson. When the actress chose to pursue university, her character was written out of the show. By season six, the role was recast with Sarah Chalke (later of Scrubs fame) who continued until the end of season seven, when Goranson’s university schedule allowed her to return. Scheduling conflicts midway through season eight resulted in Becky being played by both actresses in different episodes. Chalke reclaimed the role full time for the show’s ninth and final season. The show producers dealt with the regular changes in Becky’s appearance with a running gag.

1. Jan Brady – The Brady Bunch: When the cast of The Brady Bunch were approached in 1976 to return to television in the all singing, all dancing, all terrible Brady Bunch Variety Hour, all were coaxed back with the exception of Eve Plumb (Jan) who wisely stayed away. She was replaced by “Fake Jan” Geri Reischl, a talented singer and actor. Luckily for everyone involved, and TV audiences, the show only lasted nine episodes and is considered one of the worst ever produced. Geri retired in 1983, but returned to singing in 2000. My brother bought me an autographed copy of her 2011 album, entitled 1200 Riverside for my birthday last year. It is not very good, but the CD makes a great drink coaster.

Cut from the Final Cut

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th September 2011.

Imagine being a struggling actor and after years of unsuccessful auditions, you finally get your big break. You rehearse your lines, shoot your scenes and then gather all your friends and family together to watch your work on the big or small screen. Imagine your horror when you find that your scenes have been reduced to a few seconds of screen time or even worse, cut completely from the final project.

Star Wars debuts on high definition blu-ray tomorrow. For Episode IV: A New Hope, English actor Garrick Hagon was cast in the role of Biggs Darklighter, Luke Skywalker’s long time friend. He shot several scenes including one on Tatooine where he confides to Luke that he wishes to abandon the Imperial Academy to join the Rebel Alliance, as well as a reunion at the Yavin 4 hanger prior to the Death Star battle. Both of these ended up on the editing room floor, with only a minor appearance, and subsequent death by explosion thanks to Darth Vader, making it into the original 1977 cut.

I suppose he can’t complain. Hagon does appear in one of the most popular motion pictures ever, and was even immortalised as an action figure. And that is much more than my next subject can say.

The Big Chill was a hit film released in 1983. It was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt and Kevin Kline. Its storyline follows a group of college friends who come back together as thirtysomethings after the suicide of one their mates.

The original script called for flashbacks of the dead friend’s life that were to be interspersed throughout the film. These scenes were shot using an unknown actor at the time named Kevin Costner.

In the final cut, all that remains of Costner’s work are a few shots of his wrists and hair as the corpse is being prepared for the funeral. After sitting through Costner’s self-indulgent disaster, The Postman, I think The Big Chill may be his best work. The deleted scenes have never been released.

Speaking of which, The Big Chill soundtrack is rather excellent. Costner isn’t on that either.

Being cut from a film is not just a phenomenon for unknown actors. Famed film director Terrance Malick finally returned to the big screen with 1998’s The Thin Red Line after an absence of twenty years. This World War 2 drama features seemingly every big name male actor of the time, including Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and George Clooney.

Malick’s first cut ran for a bum-numbing five hours. By the time it hit cinemas, The Thin Red Line was down to 170 minutes. Unfortunately, to achieve this feat, all of the scenes featuring Gary Oldman, Billy Bob Thornton, Viggo Mortensen, Jason Patric, Mickey Rourke, Bill Pullman and Martin Sheen were left on the cutting room floor. I hope they all got paid anyway.

The deadly final cut has even happened to me, although in my case I barely made it in front of the camera.

In my years as a child actor, I was cast in the ABC miniseries Children of the Dragon, starring Gary Sweet. I played a hotel bellhop and had two scenes opposite English actor, Bob Peck.

Peck had starred in the sci-fi flick Slipstream opposite Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, so I was pretty excited. He later went on to star in Jurassic Park as doomed game warden Robert Muldoon.

My first scene was shot in the morning. All I had to do was grab Bob’s suitcase from a limo and lead him up some stairs. My other scene had dialogue so a few days later I dutifully practiced my lines and waited in the dressing room for my call to work with Mr Peck. Eight hours later, an assistant knocks on the door and informs me that they are running late and my scene had been cut.

What a bummer. Oh well, if it was good enough for Robin Hood, The Wrestler and that guy from Star Wars, it’s good enough for me too.

Post-Oscar career slumps: it could happen to you

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th January 2011.

The Oscars are almost upon us. On February 27 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, the stars will come together for Hollywood’s night of nights. The nominees are yet to be announced, although I’m pretty sure that Natalie Portman and Colin Firth already have their speeches ready. Whilst I’m certain that every actor would love to be called to the podium to receive an Oscar, there isn’t any guarantee that a career will continue to soar after winning arguably the world’s most famous paper weight.

Christoph Waltz burst onto the Hollywood scene in last year’s Inglourious Basterds, winning the Oscar for Best Actor. Although not an overnight success (he has been working in theatre, television and non-Hollywood films for over thirty years), his depiction of the cruel and ruthless Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece made audiences take notice. Many cinefiles such as myself couldn’t wait to see what this obviously very talented Austrian would do next.

Disappointingly, he followed up his Oscar winning performance as a villain with a role playing practically the same villain in The Green Hornet which hit screens last week. I’m sorry, but being in 3D doesn’t give a performance extra depth. Coming up next for Waltz is an adaption of The Three Musketeers. I just hope he’s not playing a cruel and ruthless villain.

Cuba Gooding, Jr followed a remarkable turn in Boyz n the Hood (1991) with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jerry Maguire in 1996. His critically acclaimed performance as footballer Rod Tidwell spawned the catchphrase, “Show me the money.” Unfortunately for Gooding, his Oscar win was for acting, not role selection, and it has been downhill ever since.

How do you follow-up the role of a lifetime? Why not take on the challenging Shakespearian drama of Boat Trip (2002), Norbit and Daddy Day Camp (both 2007)? Gooding’s acting work has been the exclusive domain of direct to TV movies for the past two years. I guess we all have to eat.

After a string of erotic thrillers and action films in the eighties and early nineties, Kim Basinger took out the 1997 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for L.A. Confidential. As femme fetale Lynn Bracken, she was perfectly cast as the Veronica Lake look-alike prostitute. With the exception of a few major releases such as Cellular (2004) and The Sentinel (2006), Basinger has been working on small independent pictures and television since. She also has had the dubious honour of portraying Eminem and Zac Efron’s mother in 8 Mile (2002) and Charlie St Cloud (2010), respectively.

Who can forget Roberto Benigni’s over the top reaction to winning the Best Actor Oscar in 1999 for Life is Beautiful? I think almost everyone would like to forget it. The excitable Benigni climbed over the seats and applauded the audience before making his way to the podium to make a giddy speech. Unfortunately since then, he has directed and starred in Pinocchio (2002), which bombed at the box office, as well as taking roles in epic historical dramas such as Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar (1999).

Unless you’re receiving a lifetime achievement honour at the Academy Awards, the assumption is that the best is yet to come. In the ever changing world of Hollywood, that is not always true despite talent and luck. Still, a win is a win and being an Oscar recipient ensures your name will be in the record books forever. Hollywood history shows that in time, only the good films are remembered. Did I mention that Orson Welles’ final performance was in Transformers: The Movie (1986)?