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When NBC/Universal announced last September that Ron Howard would helm an unprecedented film and TV adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, the consensus among fans of the books was pretty much the same: this project will either be a history-making blockbuster or a colossal failure. The seven-novel series has a devoted following, but it's not the story for which the horror writer is known, and the mythology King created with the series is sure to pose challenges to live-action translation. Three feature films and a television series give Howard and his team (screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and producer Brian Grazer) enough space to tell the full story, but it's a rich, tightly woven saga with dozens of narrative threads that could be unraveled or lost on the big or small screens.
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The success of this adaptation will depend on the strength of its architects, but the casting of its protagonist, gunslinger Roland Deschain, is critical. The man who plays Roland will introduce the character to millions of viewers who have never read the series, and will carry the burden of making the role compelling enough to retain those viewers for years. Academy Award winner Javier Bardem has been offered the role, and the choice brings at least a small amount of focus to a massive, risky project. (He's also reportedly been offered a role in the next James Bond movie, but Stephen King's official Dark Tower website lists Bardem as playing Roland.)
Part Arthurian knight, part Eastwood's "Josey Wales," Roland is the last of a line of noble gunmen on an endless quest to find and save the Dark Tower, the center of all existence. His character is as intricate and layered as the story itself: Roland is a father figure, a diplomat, an assassin—sometimes all at once. As the series progresses, we watch Roland reject his self-imposed solitude and create his own family, strange and deadly as it is; we also watch him kill with soulless precision and betray those he loves for the sake of his quest. It's that depth and plurality of character that an actor will have to master.