Originally, I subtitled this post “Civilians”, by which I was referring to those recurring, supporting characters in the “Bat-universe” who do not wear a mask or a badge. I’m not really concerned with fan-casting the parents & other family members, romantic interests, or corporate allies/rivals of Bruce, Dick, or anyone else. They are minor characters, and casting them “correctly” is not nearly as important as getting the main ones right. My focus, then, is on the Big Three “civilians” in the Bat-universe: Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox, and Dr. Leslie Thompkins. I *was* going to do all three in one post — thus, the original subtitle — but have since decided to give Alfred his own (obviously). I’ll follow up with the other two next week.
Longsuffering, dependable, multi-talented Alfred raised young Bruce since he was orphaned, helped him deal with the pain & grief through the early years and with the lingering sorrow & anger that drives Bruce to this day. Alfred is the epitome of loyal manservant in the British tradition — butler, cook, valet, chauffeur, majordomo. More than that, he is friend, father-figure, and confidant of all the (male) residents of Wayne Manor and the Batcave. He obviously cares very deeply for Bruce, Dick, and Tim, but he is quite reserved and maintains — at least, publicly — a very stereotypical “stiff upper lip” when they are hurting, stubborn, insensitive, acting foolishly or self-destructively. Still, while he is respectful, he gives as good as he gets, including challenging and upbraiding “Master Bruce” (or one of the others) when necessary. Oh, and we mustn’t forget his droll sense of humor. I am certain, though, that any seasoned actor could handle all of that with aplomb.
Physically, however, it has been a bit more challenging to find someone who fits my preferred look for Alfred. First of all, I haven’t been satisfied with any “Alfreds” on small- or big-screen, yet. None of them looked or sounded right. Near as I can tell (for reasons I won’t get into now), Alfred is about 20-25 years older than Bruce. So, if a new TV or movie series begins with Bruce’s “Year One” as Batman, Bruce would be about 25 years old, making Alfred roughly 45-50. Obviously, if the series begins later in Bruce’s bat-career, the characters would be older. DC wiki puts Alfred at 5’10”, 160 lbs. I think the generally svelte build is important to keep, but the height (shorter than Bruce) might range from, say, 5’8″ to 6′.
Once upon a time, the late Roddy McDowall (5’8″,1928-1998) would have been perfect! This would have been fitting, since McDowall played the villain “Bookworm” on the “Batman” TV series of the ’60s, as well as voicing “Jervis Tetch, The Mad Hatter” in “Batman: The Animated Series”, “The New Batman Adventures”, and “Superman”. Three more veteran actors who I think would have been great in the role but are now too old are Christopher Plummer (5’10.5″,b.1929), Terence Stamp (6′,b.1938), and John Hurt (5’9″,b.1940) — all terrific, Shakespearean actors. I also considered Zeljko Ivanek (5’7″,b.1957) (too short?), Lars Mikkelsen (6’3″,b.1963?) (too tall), and John Hannah (5’10”,b.1962), all of whom I’ve enjoyed in various things.
Finally, while none are “perfect”, I narrowed it down to these three favorites:
Tim Plester (?,b.1970)
For a 40-something Alfred, Plester fits the bill. (Can’t find anything that gives his height, but I think he’s in the ballpark.) Recently seen as “Black Walder Rivers” in “Game of Thrones” (see left pic), Plester has also appeared in “Dr. Who” (see right pic), Kick Ass, Lockout, and “Life on Mars” (British version). He has played from mellow to psycho, so he has range, and I’d like to see him as Alfred in the “Year One” timeframe, or even a few years before.
Stephen Dillane (6′,b.1956)
If our story takes place later in Bruce/Batman’s career, a 50-something Alfred is definitely called for, and Dillane could be an interesting choice. I first became aware of this talented actor when he played Thomas Jefferson in the “John Adams” mini-series a few years back. Then, I enjoyed him in the short-lived series “Hunted”, and, of course, these days most know him as Stannis Baratheon on “Game of Thrones”. Dillane also starred in Spy Game and King Arthur. Give him a thin mustache and the proper attire and we’ve got ourselves… loyal manservant to the Waynes of Gotham, Alfred Pennyworth.
Gary Oldman (5’8.5″,b.1958)
That’s right! I think the former “Commissioner James Gordon” could do a wonderful turn as Alfred. Why not? Oldman is uber-talented, and has proven himself a chameleon who can play just about anything. I think he could do a remarkable job with this part and flesh out the different facets of the character. In case you’ve forgotten some of his other genre roles, Oldman has starred in Dracula, Romeo Is Bleeding, The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, four Harry Potter films, the Robocop remake, and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
***Last minute addition: How about Michael Emerson (5’8″,b.1954) of “Lost” and “Person of Interest”, who has also voiced The Joker for “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”? I had him in mind for a couple other parts, but he might be a good “Alfred”, too.
What do you think of my choices? Make sense? Are my physical requirements for the role unnecessarily restrictive?
Incidentally, I actually like the casting of Jeremy Irons (6’2″,b.1948) as Alfred in Batman vs. Superman. First, it’s pretty hard to complain about casting top talent like Irons; he’s right up there with Plummer, Stamp, and Hurt. He is taller than I would prefer, but Bruce/Batman is being played by 6’4″ Ben Affleck, so there is still a fair height difference. Age-wise, since this Bruce/Batman will be 40-ish, it makes sense for Alfred to be 60-something. So, as long as Irons is true to the character, I’m happy.
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2014.