(Mild spoilers for Deadpool and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
These days, if you’re an A-lister around Hollywood, you need a bonafide franchise or superhero role. Sometimes, two or three.
There are two kinds of big ticket roles: roles bigger than the actor and actors bigger than the role. In the latter category is the likes of Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington, fine actors who occupy a specific role not only on screen but in real life. They’re often bigger than the characters they play, in turn defining the character rather than vice versa. You can’t just replicate that formula. Cruise recently tried to double up Mission: Impossible with Jack Reacher but the latter has fizzled at the box office, so Cruise is naturally back at work on M:I 6. Even Washington, a longtime holdout, got his own in the form of The Equalizer, the sequel to which finally goes into production this fall.
In the former category however is where yesterday’s news resides, the kinds of roles bigger than the actor. News broke yesterday that two veteran leading men booked two of the hottest roles around: Jude Law will play a young Albus Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts 2 and Josh Brolin has landed the coveted role of time-traveling X-Man Cable in Deadpool 2. Both processes had long been teased, the former since last November and the latter since Deadpool’s release over a year ago. Both are set to film this summer under the direction of David Yates and David Leitch, respectively.
Law’s and Brolin’s casting are relatively happy endings to long-winded searches. They’re broadly acceptable among many different segments of the fanbase and general audiences. Adding elements to a franchise without changing or removing what worked in the first place is always the tricky balancing act of sequels and franchise filmmaking in general. The kind of multi-picture deals scare and entice, repel and ensnare, because these roles will continue until the mid-2020s. Brolin’s deal calls for four appearances as the mechanized mutant. Law’s deal wasn’t disclosed but its safe to say his Albus Dumbledore will play a pivotal role in all four remaining Fantastic Beasts films that have been announced.
Brolin occupies a middle-ground between the mega-stardom of Brad Pitt or Russell Crowe and the leading character actors of Michael Shannon or David Harbour. The Cable casting search has been long and winding but the fact that Brolin was mentioned barely, if at all, as being in contention (remember the rumor that Tim Miller wanted Kyle Chandler in the role?) is perhaps a testament to Brolin’s other big comic book role*, mo-capping the uber-villain Thanos in next May’s Avengers: Infinity War (and presumably the sequel its currently being filmed back-t0-back with but that is unconfirmed). The irony is that Deadpool himself Ryan Reynolds double-dipped himself to play Green Lantern when it appeared Deadpool would never get made, something Reynolds captured in his tweet welcoming Brolin.
*Sorry, Jonah Hex fans
The Harry Potter franchise, meanwhile, is like Ash Ketchum after the best British acting talent. So many greats had roles in the original eight films it became a race to fit them all in at the end. Now, with the prequel series expanded to five films, there’s plenty more space for all those who missed out, like Jude Law as young Dumbledore, the prototypical Merlin-esque mentor to Harry. It’s a role that Variety reports the studio had considered “every major British actor in the biz” for. It’s the actor’s follow-up to a successful action-comedy Spy and an acclaimed prestige TV series The Young Pope (as well as the villain in next month’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). Law’s boyish visage captures Dumbledore’s naive charm while also communicating a kind of darkly angelic power. With Sherlock Holmes 3 perpetually on ice (they really need a writer’s room for it? A solo Watson movie in the offing?), Law was free to look elsewhere for a steady paycheck.
It’s hard not to feel like Colin Farrell got the rug pulled out from under him, playing essentially the Quirrell of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, his role amounting to “lesser Johnny Depp” apparently (lesser in perhaps pay scale but certainly not in talent). As someone who has grown tired of Depp’s antics, I’m frustrated we won’t get Farrell facing off against Jude Law instead (though, if somehow the three were all united on screen, perhaps they could all make the ultimate sacrifice and fuse together to bring us back Heath Ledger).
Casting decisions don’t always come together as these two did in the end. It’s not easy to find affordable-but-bankable talent willing to commit to long term contracts. By the same token, it’s no guarantee these films will live up to or improve on their predecessors. But the happy ending to these two casting searches are optimistic indications that they’re trying.