Tom Cruise probably wasn't what readers had in mind when they pictured Jack Reacher, the brawny hero of more than a dozen Lee Child novels.
Reacher's described in the books as a 6-foot-5, blue-eyed, 250-pound lug with dirty blond hair and a patchwork of scars. Cruise is nearly a foot shorter and about 80 pounds lighter, with a different hair color and a persona that's, well, a few shades short of rugged.
And yet, in theaters this Christmas, there he is: Cruise as Reacher in “Jack Reacher.”
Perhaps even stranger is the casting of Tyler Perry as Alex Cross in “Alex Cross” (which hit theaters this weekend). Perry fits the physical description of James Patterson's methodical detective, played by Morgan Freeman in previous films. But Perry's still a guy known for playing a sassy older woman. Tough, weathered cop's a bit of a stretch.
Casting a beloved character can be perilous territory in the already risky business of book-to-movie adaptations. No matter what, some readers are going to be disappointed.
He's too old. She's too buxom. That's not who I pictured.
“Whether Hollywood gets (character casting) right is a very personal question,” said Chloe Neill, the Omaha author of “The Chicagoland Vampire” series. “The fantastic thing about reading, especially when a novel is truly engrossing, is that you become part of the author's world. But every reader 'sees' the world differently, including its characters. Movies must rely on what the directors, producers and casting folks 'see,' and sometimes those visions of the author's world just don't match up.”
As frustrating as it can be when Hollywood gets it wrong, she said, it's “magic when they get it right.”
Nebraska-native screenwriter Lew Hunter, who's worked on movies and TV shows for decades, said that whether the star fits the character is almost incidental. There are so many other considerations. Who owns the property? What do the studio heads want? Which actor's under contract? Who's directing it? Who's available?
Movie stars often are the driving force behind the books getting adapted in the first place. And the thing is, Hunter said, “actors are almost 100 percent just playing themselves in movies. Tom Cruise is still Tom Cruise.”
Which is what makes a miscast character all the more disheartening. The character is almost always going to adapt to the movie star instead of the movie star adapting to the character. Jack Reacher gets shorter, softer, Tom-Cruise-er.
Dan Thompson, 23, can name two great examples of book-to-movie casting: the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series. The filmmakers “spent a lot of time getting the characters down,” he said. But often a book's translation to film just doesn't quite work for him.
“In my mind, it always looks different,” he said. “I try not to go into the movie with too many expectations.”