Fan-Cast: James Bond, part 2: M

“Go to hell with ‘dignity’. I’ll leave when the job’s done.”  — M, Skyfall

A little over a month ago, I did some fan-casting for legendary British intelligence officer, James Bond, aka Agent 007. I promised to eventually follow up with casting suggestions for Bond’s closest associates. So, assuming another reboot when Daniel Craig leaves the franchise in a few years, this week I’d like to take a shot at finding a new “M”. (I was going to do “Miss Moneypenny”, too, but I decided they each needed a separate post.)

M

The Four Ms

Apparently inspired by various individuals that Ian Fleming knew or was familiar with, M is the Head of the Foreign Intelligence branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, i.e., Great Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) (aka MI-6). As a member of the 00 Section, Bond reports directly to M. The tradition of the head of MI-6 signing his/her name with a single letter came from the agency’s real-life first director, Captain Sir Mansfield George Smith Cumming, KCMG, CB (1 April 1859 – 14 June 1923), who used to sign “C”. Some, but not all, of those holding the office in the novels and movies have had the initial “M”, but the single-letter title seems to have stuck.

As per Wikipedia, “A naval theme runs throughout Fleming’s description of M and his surroundings, and his character was described by journalist and Bond scholar Ben Macintyre as “every inch the naval martinet”. Macintyre also notes that in his study of Fleming’s work, Kingsley Amis outlined the way Fleming had described M’s voice, being: angry (three times); brutal, cold (seven times); curt, dry (five times); gruff (seven times); stern, testy (five times).” The character often clashes with Bond, while simultaneously trusting the agent’s intel and respecting his end-results. I am not aware of any physical description given for M. Of course, there have been multiple people to hold the office (four in the movies, not sure about the novels), including a woman, so that would all vary, anyway. But, we do know that the sorts of people who are appointed are very smart, accomplished, usually with military experience, and not averse to doing a little field work.

If casting someone in their 70s (by the time a post-Craig film went before the cameras), I can think of three distinguished British actors that could do the role justice. First, there is Jeremy Irons (6’2″,b.1948), known to genre fans for everything from Dead Ringers and Die Hard with a Vengeance to The Man in the Iron Mask, The Time Machine (2002), Eragon, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Michael Kitchen (5’7″,b.1948) hasn’t done much genre work, though he did appear in Dracula A.D. 1972, “Thriller”, “Tales of the Unexpected”, The Russia House, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”, and he played the recurring ‘Bill Tanner’ character in Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough. (He came to my attention when he starred in the “Foyle’s War” series of TV movies.) Then, of course, there is the amazing Helen Mirren (5’4″,b.1945). In addition to starring in the various “Prime Suspect” mini-series, Mirren can be seen in “Thriller”, Excalibur, 2010, White Knights, “The Twilight Zone”, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, State of Play, RED & RED 2, with some voice work thrown in.

If I had my druthers, though, I’d like to see someone a little younger in the role, if for no other reason than to increase the odds of their staying with the franchise for several years. So, here are a couple of candidates:

Colin Salmon

Once suggested by Pierce Brosnan to replace him as Bond, Colin Salmon (6’4.5″,b.1962) would be a terrific M! First appearing in “Prime Suspect 2”, Salmon went on to appear in such genre fare as “Tales from the Crypt”, Immortality, Resident Evil, “Dinotopia”, “Keen Eddie”, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, “Hex”, “Doctor Who”, Punisher: War Zone, “Merlin”, “Strike Back”, “MI-5”, “Arrow”, “24: Live Another Day”, etc. And, oh yes, he played M’s Chief of Staff, Charles Robinson, in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. Salmon is a wonderful actor with a commanding voice and presence. It might even make sense for the Robinson character to be promoted into the M position.

Stephen Dillane

“Game of Thrones” fans know him best as would-be king ‘Stannis Baratheon’. But, Stephen Dillane (6′,b.1957) has been around for awhile and appeared in plenty of other genre productions. These include “The One Game”, “Super Soldier”, Welcome to Sarajevo, Spy Game, King Arthur, Freakdog, 44 Inch Chest, “Eternal Law”, “Hunted” (in which he played the head of a small office of spies), “Secret State”, Zero Dark Thirty, and the current “The Tunnel” series. His characters are often cold, stern, by-the-book types, which fit perfectly with Fleming’s original characterization of M. I think Dillane would be a great choice.

If I was more familiar with British TV and movies, I could probably come up with a couple more. But, those will have to do for now. Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: Batman, part 5: Alfred Pennyworth

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.

Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred Pennyworth - 40ishAlfred Pennyworth - 50ish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfred from *Young Justice* animated seriesLongsuffering, 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 - diptych

Tim Plester, h/t Zung Tran at Hubpages

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 in tan sportcoat

Stephen Dillane

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 - closeup, tux

Gary Oldman

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.