Who cares who's playing the lead?

One of cinema's most recognisable faces, that of Freddy Krueger, has been replaced. Kaleem Aftab reports on the trend in Hollywood that is undermining the power of the actor

The latest incarnation of A Nightmare on Elm Street sees Robert Englund ditched from the Freddy Krueger role that he has become synonymous with and replaced by Jackie Earle Haley. Changing the actor playing a famous character has become the vogue in Hollywood, where studios will try anything to keep a franchise going, and this is a trend that actually seems to be finding favour with the movie-going public.

Jackie Earle Haley's career has had something of a renaissance ever since he chilled as a convicted sex offender in Little Children opposite Kate Winslet in 2006. He seems a perfectly good candidate to play the famous horror candidate, yet there is a sense of sacrilege that Englund has been ditched. Movie fan site Ain't It Cool News captured the mood of the public when it posited: "Once one looks beyond the 'Freddy Isn't Robert Englund!' prejudice... this isn't altogether unreasonable casting at all."

The phenomenon of actors bringing new life to a character is something that has always been apparent in theatre, and in movies it has always been fair game to do it for well-known characters adapted from other mediums, such as comic books and plays, but there has for a long time been a sense that, if an actor gets too old to play a part that he made famous on screen, then the character should be retired too. William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk was once the prime example of this.

It used to be that audiences would only be able to argue over which James Bond was the best. He was the cinema character where it seemed fun to compare, and which actor one preferred as Bond said a lot about an audience members' taste and age. It was helped by the fact that the Bond stories usually worked as stand-alone films with separate narratives. Yet this did create the bizarre situation in 1983 when both Octopussy, starring Roger Moore, and Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery, were released within months of each other.

Now though, it's not just James Bond who has had as many face-changes as Doctor Who. With the increasing number of remakes, reboots and sequels that seem to appear in every passing year, cinema audiences are getting more used to casting changes. It's also the clearest sign that, over the past decade, actors have become less important in terms of getting bums on seats.

In the eight years from Tim Burton's Batman in 1989 until 1997's Batman and Robin, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney all donned the tights without the merest hint of a "holy cow" from Robin. When Ang Lee's Hulk starring Erik Bana didn't live up to box-office expectations in 2003, the studio tried again five years later with Ed Norton in the title role trying to give the franchise a new lease of life. It has become the ready-made excuse for producers when a franchise fails, to blame the actor, rather than the product or themselves for failure.

Actors are not yet completely defunct, as the right actor in the right role can still make it difficult for a franchise to replace them. For example, when Matt Damon announced that he was following the lead of Paul Greengrass and refusing to do another Bourne movie, it seemed to signal the end of the franchise, despite Bourne often being referred to as the American Bond.

The caveat is that studios have become rather adept at keeping franchises going through the phenomenon of the reboot. A reboot is the restarting of a franchise from the beginning. Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's decision not to do another Spider-Man movie wasn't met with tears in the Sony studio office but the drawing up of a plan of how to reboot the webbed crusader. Similar soundbites have been made about Bourne, where it has been suggested that the plot will revolve around his younger years.

Last year, JJ Abrams did a remarkable job with his reboot of Star Trek, successfully managing both to replace the seemingly irreplaceable William Shatner as James T Kirk with Chris Pine and also finding space for both the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, to line up next to his new doppelganger Zachary Quinto.

Star Trek was the prime example of a franchise that had previously tried not to replace iconic characters with new characters. Instead of reboots, they had spin-offs such as Star Trek: The Next Generation with all-new characters, as it seemed foolhardy and impossible to replace Shatner as Captain Kirk. Yet modern audiences seem happier than ever to make this jump. Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot saw Christopher Bale don the cape and Bale has also been in an attempt to keep the Terminator franchise going long after Arnold Schwarzenegger showed that he would not necessarily be back.

Occasionally the death of an actor, such as that of Heath Ledger, will result in the need for a casting change. And this was one aspect that director Terry Gilliam successfully negotiated in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, even creating a light-hearted moment when Johnny Depp seems shocked as he purveys his own reflection and the character seems surprised not to look like Ledger. Another tool being used by studios is through the use of "synthespians", short for synthetic thespians. These are artificial actors created on the desk of a special-effects boffin. James Cameron has already suggested that the technology used in Avatar could be used to bring actors back to the screen long after they have died. Indeed, Avatar itself takes a step in that direction.

One obvious advantage for studios of the diminishing role of the actor is that actors have become cheaper to employ. In the end, whether an actor reprises a role often comes down to money, but if audiences don't care if the face changes the bargaining position of the actor is severely weakened.

However, audiences still seem to prefer to see the same actors play characters, which is why studios now take so much care to usually option actors for three movies when they think they might have a franchise on their hands. Given the changing nature of actors it's amazing that the principal actors of the Harry Potter franchise will have stayed together through eight movies.



It's not just blockbusters that have taken advantage of this phenomenon. When Todd Solondz decided to make a sequel to his 1998 hit Happiness, he abandoned the usual convention of asking the same actors to reprise their roles. Instead, in his follow-up Life During Wartime, he started the casting process from scratch. Solondz has a history of doing this sort of thing. In his last outing, Palindromes, he employed eight different actors to play the 13- year-old girl who is determined to enter motherhood.

The rationale, as explained by Solondz then, was that he wanted each young actress to portray a different aspect of the main character's personality, so someone different would play Aviva when she was happy to the girl who would play her when she was sad. It's also extremely plausible to argue that young actresses only have a limited range, and so multiple casting of the same role is helpful rather than being a hindrance.

For actors outside of childhood this could perhaps be taken as a dismissal of their ability, although Todd Haynes did successfully tread this very line in his Dylan biopic I'm Not There, where he also used the alternative-actor ruse to show different aspects of his main protagonist's personality.

However, to dismiss Solondz's casting as a gimmick is to miss the point that, rather than looking at actors as mere pawns, the bespectacled director is showing that different actors elicit different reactions from the audience, even if they are playing the same part or acting out very similar scenes. Each actor brings something unique to the party and, as such, becomes more, rather than less, important because of the interchange.

Of course, some could also argue that Solondz recast because of financial constraints and an inability to recast the same actors. Getting Hoffman back to play a role that may have offended some of his post-Oscar fan-base would have been extremely difficult no matter how much money was on the table. Instead Solondz found a way, taking the lead from blockbuster movies, to make a sequel without breaking tight budgetary constraints.

Likewise, the team behind A Nightmare on Elm Street have made a marketing splash about the fact that a new actor is playing Freddy, and it has become the big reason why this reboot should be seen.

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' is released in the UK on May 7

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine