Casting 'The Great Gatsby': Who Should Play Tom Buchanan?
Ben Affleck won't be playing the role in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel. Who should instead?
Ben Affleck won't be moving to East Egg.
Affleck was rumored to have been in talks to play Tom Buchanan in director Baz Luhrmann's screen version of The Great Gatsby, but reportedly had to back out due to a scheduling conflict.
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That's great news for film fans—not because Affleck wouldn't have done well playing Daisy's philandering husband, but simply because it's crazy fun to speculate about casting a major motion picture. Just as your average football fan loves nothing more than pretending to be a NFL general manager—witness the upcoming umpteen hours of draft coverage—there's nothing film buffs love more than pretending to cast a big movie.
The already gaudy Gatsby cast features Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, Carey Mulligan as his Daisy, and Tobey Maguire playing Nick Carraway. Ilsa Fisher is maybe, probably, possibly going to play Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Or is it Jenna Fischer?
It's hard to know, exactly. Luhrmann has been dazzlingly circumspect about the project, kindly but categorically refusing to confirm or deny a thing about the film, beyond that he's making it. At the very least, the mere fact that a large role like Tom Buchanan remains uncast suggests that the smaller role of "Owl Eyes"—a role for which yours truly has been publicly campaigning—is also yet to be decided. Sweet.
So who should play Tom now that Affleck is out of the running?
Bradley Cooper is actively promoting himself for the part of Buchanan, and it's not going well. He went so far in a recent New York Times interview as to call Tom the "best character in the book," which is just silly, and it's precisely that unctuous willingness to self-promote and pander that makes him unfit for the role.
Tom is the very picture of patrician arrogance, with a vast sense of entitlement all the more galling for being so totally unconscious. As Ann Richards once said of George W. Bush, Tom is like the man who was born standing on third base but thinks he hit a triple. Cooper is too fidgety and too eager to please for the role. He seems to know this too, joking in the Times interview that lobbying for the part would probably scuttle his chances for getting it. Which, in fact, it will.
A pair of Brits, Jude Law and Orlando Bloom might be better fits. Both have the poise and star power to play Tom. Then again, both lack the intimidating physical presence Buchanan needs. Tom is an athlete—a polo player, and "one of the most powerful ends" to ever play football at Yale. This is a man, after all, described by Daisy as a "great, big, hulking physical specimen."
For the right body type, and for the sake of mentioning a few less-famous actors, think of Ryan McPartlin, frequently shirtless as Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb on NBC's nerd-fest Chuck. Or think of Travis Schuldt, best known for recurring roles as Ben the solider on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Elliot's dreamy boyfriend Keith on Scrubs. Both have hulking frames, at least by Hollywood standards, and the right sort of lantern-jawed, Nordic good looks for the part. But they might be a little too pretty, too Ryan Reynolds-ish for the role. Tom should be ruddy and handsome, not beautiful, and he can never eclipse the more glamorous Jay.
Besides, those two guys are awfully likable. They lack Tom's lurking menace—the constant threat of violence and the body that Nick describes as muscular and cruel. This is a man, after all, who casually beats his lover, breaking Myrtle's nose with "a short deft movement" of his open hand.
There's a lot to be said for casting Jon Hamm. We know from Mad Men that can go from charming to scary in a flash, and that he's brilliant at walking through the world like he owns it.
His coloring could be an issue. Hamm is little bit dark for straw-haired Tom, but that's why they make wigs and contact lenses. Age would be the bigger problem. In the novel, Tom is 30. Hamm is 40 in real life. Granted, Maguire at 35 and DiCaprio at 36 are both a few years older than their characters, but both have the advantage of being baby-faced. Hamm's face is angular and shows every one of those four decades, no doubt partly from the cloud of smoke he's lived in playing Don Draper.
Christian Bale has no problem playing smug or scary. Bale has no problem playing anything—and that's the problem. Availability is at issue. When a guy has the lead role in the biggest film franchise of all time, plus a new Oscar in his pocket to boot, his schedule tend to fill up about a decade in advance.
Which brings us to the perfect candidate: Sam Worthington. He played Jake in Avatar, so you know he can fill the biggest screen. He's burly and handsome without being pretty, and has just the right mix of menace and charm. Besides that, he's even Australian, which you know fellow Aussie Luhrmann has to like.
Problem solved. Worthington is in. Assuming one of the Fis(c)hers is playing Myrtle, and that the Owl Eyes part is on lockdown, that leaves only one more really juicy Gatsby role left to cast. That would be Nick's sexy- -but-shady love interest, golfer Jordan Baker. Blake Lively, anyone?