Casting 'Shadows'

by Bill Gibron

7 December 2008

 

Johnny Depp is in (supposedly). So is his own personal Goth guru Tim Burton (reportedly). If we are to believe trade tattletales like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the provocative pairing, currently working on a big screen adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (the former as the Mad Hatter, the latter as filmmaker), will follow up such spectacle with a re-vamp of Dan Curtis’ seminal horror soap opera, Dark Shadows. That’s right, Depp is lined up to bring tortured romantic and resident neckbiter Barnabas Collins to Twilight tweaked fan girls (and boys) everywhere. And given their exemplary track record - Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - expectations have a right to be high.

Yet, oddly enough, Shadows is not a solo gig. Sure, Barnabas resurrected the series when creator Curtis’ House of the Seven Gables goof was tanking in the ratings, and he’s an integral component to its lasting legacy and success. But without an accomplished cast around him, actors who can understand the dynamic that drove Shadows to classic cult status, the whole thing could turn out rancid. We’re not talking retro here - we don’t want to recreate the original players. But Curtis knew how to play to his company’s strengths, and if Burton is smart, he’ll do something similar with the cinematic version. Anyway, with Depp out of the way, here are our picks for the rest of the troubled Collins clan and their merry band of employees, enemies, and hangers-on:

cover art

Dark Shadows

Cast: Joan Bennett, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Alexandra Moltke, David Henesy, Denise Nickerson, Thayer David

(ABC)
US: 27 Jun 1966

The Men

Roger Collins - as played by “Big” Louis Edmunds, Roger was one of several Shadows’ characters of questionable conviction and perplexing personal ‘orientation’. The “was he/wasn’t he” argument rages on, even with subplots involving phantom wives and hateful offspring. So a modern actor of equal ambiguity needs to be found, and though he’s poised as a leading man, Jude Law could easily fill the (wo)man-crush character perfectly. Besides, being whiny and desperate are practically trademarks for the slight UK stud.
Quentin Collins - this one’s tough. David Selby walked the fine line between seduction and insanity for so long he appeared both romantic and ridiculous at the same time. When he wasn’t making cow eyes at anything in a skirt, he was battling his own inner lycanthrope (the character was cursed to be a werewolf, you see). We suggest Cillian Murphy, the amazing Irish actor who was Scarecrow in Batman Begins. If anyone can manage both real and ethereal animal magnetism, it’s this enigmatic, slightly askew actor.

 

Willie Loomis - ahhhhh…..Barnabas’ own sycophantic whipping boy, a character who literally feels the wraith-like wrath of the vampire’s pent up passions whenever the mood struck his master. If you’ve ever seen John Karlen whimper like a wounded pup, you’ll immediately understand why Paul Giamatti is the man to replace him. Willie has to be both resilient and weak, easily manipulated but frequently stricken by a strong moral code. The Sultan of Sideways could definitely bring that to the role - and much, much more.
Count Petofi - every good thriller needs a villain, and NO, the living dead lothario is not the bad guy here. Shadows was subversive in frequently making the monsters the protagonists of their surreal story arcs. So this crazed warlock with a missing magical hand would be the perfect Burton-like nemesis. He’s flamboyant yet ferocious, evil with just enough irony to make him both loathsome and loveable. And who better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman to essay the role’s many maniacal complications.

Aristede - in the TV series, this character was nothing more than a well dressed dandy with murder on his mind. He did the dirty work while his master Petofi took all the glory. Plotwise, he makes a perfect parallel and juxtaposition to Willie. As for casting, the current Aristede would have to be someone with a piercing stare and a “Hello Sailor” aura. We go with Twilight‘s Rob Pattinson. He’s got the broody menace and undead façade down pat.

The Women

Elizabeth Collins - as the moldy old matriarch of the Collins clan, Joan Bennett added a little Golden Era Hollywood glam to Curtis’ serialized spook show. She even got some good subplots now and again. For this go around, another grand dame would be suitable, and one imagines that Judy Dench would be just peachy. If you want to go American however, and a tad more hysterical, how about Meryl Streep? She’d look amazing in a black wig and widow’s garb.
Victoria Winters - the eternal victim at Collinwood, this nanny turned plot necessity has to have hidden strength and outward helplessness. Maggie Gyllenhall showed both when she took over the role of Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight (replacing another left-field possibility, Katie Holmes). Equally important, Jake’s older sister can easily act as the center of the storyline. Fans will never forget how original star Alexandra Moltke began each episode with the immortal lines, “My name is Victoria Winters…”
Maggie Evans - as one of two ingénue parts in Shadows, you just know Burton will be bucking to have his current sweetie (and mother of his children) Helena Bonham Carter as with Victoria or Maggie. While she’d probably make a better Angelique or Dr. Julia Hoffman (GOD forbid!), here’s hoping nepotism is cast aside, and someone like Kate Beckinsdale or, going less glamorous, Michelle Monaghan, is given a shot. Either one would make an easy, breezy interloper within the Collins family circle - and, even better, represent the Earthly presence of Barnabas’ long lost ghost love Josette.
Angelique - in her prime, Kathleen Turner would have been perfect in this part. Our witch (wickedly essayed by Laura Parker) with a memory and vengeance-oriented mind like a steal trap had to get tongues wagging and spines tingling with her certifiably insane sexiness. With Ms. Body Heat well past her prime, a current crazed coquette needs to be found. And while Angelina Jolie would seem like a box office given, we’d prefer to see someone like Naomi Watts chewing up the supernatural scenery. Or how about Elizabeth Banks. She’s beautiful, and can play batsh*t!
Dr. Julia Hoffman - it is literally impossible to replace the gaunt gal gravitas of Grayson Hall. She was all nicotine-stained bone structure and maiden aunt magnificence. Poised perfectly between early middle age and post-menopausal, Hall made Hoffman’s romantic lust for Barnabas into the most unique of unrequited loves. Taking her place would be tough, but here’s betting that someone like Joan Allen could handle the part brilliantly. She’s the right age, and carries the same combination of glamour and almost gone to seed as Hall.

The Kids

David Collins - the natural inclination here is to pick one of the many overused faces in the contemporary wee one’s talent pool (Freddie Highmore, we’re looking at you). But we’d prefer to see someone who has been relatively overlooked since stinking up the place as the post-millennial Damien in the awful Omen remake. But looking at him now, almost three years since that flop film, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick would make an excellent David. He already knows how to play evil. It’s all the other wimped out facets of the Collins kid that might cause him issues.
Amy Jennings - with a lineage that’s as confusing as any character’s in the show (she’s the child of ancillary personnel in the Collins’ legacy, yet then maintains a direct relationship to the family…huh), Amy is David’s partner in high-strung crime. While Abigail Breslin could probably handle it, we’re looking for someone a little more haunted and inherently spooky. And as big Sis Dakota is looking a tad awkward these days (and way too old), we’d go with her pint-sized sibling Elle Fanning. 

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