THE DARK TOWER castings confirmed… but who is Abbey Lee playing?!

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Much like Stephen King’s dark fantasy magnus opus itself, the feature film adaptation of The Dark Tower series has been a sprawling affair spanning years, with surprising plot twists, some true “F–k yeah!” moments and even controversial decisions along the way. And the last two pieces of news on the film would actually respectively fit those last two categories perfectly as we first heard that Matthew McConoughy was being rumoured to play the villainous Randall Flag while, the grapevine was also saying that Idris Elba could playing lead character, the gunslinger Roland Deschain (controversial because Roland has traditionally been white, and his race plays a huge role during a key part of the story).

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Now none of this has been officially confirmed yet (despite what some online publications are claiming), but we may just have received the best unofficial confirmation we could have thus far: From Stephen King himself. Speaking to Rolling Stone, King would/could not fully commit to the rumours as deals still needed to be finalized, but stated that he’s hearing the same things.

“I think that it’s more likely than not that Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey will be in it. But I can’t say with any certainty. I know that they’re trying to make deals with these actors [and] with Sony, and that’s the extent of my knowledge.

The Wrap appears to be a lot more certain than King though, as a source close to the production reportedly told them that it’s a done deal with McConaughey and Elba. What’s more, they’ve also “confirmed” that Mad Max: Fury Road actress Abbey Lee (“Shlanger!”) has now also joined the production. And here’s where things get weird.

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The Wrap and Deadline both claim that Lee has signed on to play the female lead opposite Elba in the first film. In “The Gunslinger”, the first book in the series, the only female lead character is world-weary bartender Allie. Except that Deadline claims that Lee’s character is named Tirana. The Wrap’s Jeff Sneider confirmed on Twitter that he’s heard the same name and that she will be the female lead. Now Tirana is a character in King’s tale, but she’s a very minor one from “The Dark Tower”, the seventh book in the series. So minor in fact that not even die-hard fans seem to have remembered that she even existed. I certainly didn’t.

Some speculated that what was actually happening here is that Lee could perhaps be playing the love of young Roland’s life, Susan Delgado, in flashbacks, but that the character was renamed to avoid confusion with Susannah, another prominent character later in the story.

And then Deadline muddied the issue again by clarifying that they’re definitely hearing that it’s not Susan, but actually is indeed Tirana and that she is “sexy and dangerous, she has fake human skin and cold snake-like eyes”. That is a definite description of the literary Tirana, one of the humanoid Can-Toi aka Low Men/Women encountered by Roland and his group in sinister Dixie Pig restaurant. But Tirana barely has more than a few lines written about her, so how could she be the lead?

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The actual female lead in the books is the aforementioned Susannah Odetta Dean aka Detta Walker, but she only gets introduced in the second book. She’s a double amputee and – this is the important bit – she’s black. In the books, this is a big deal as the pleasantly amicable and well mannered Susannah has a split personality named Detta who is a crude and violent individual driven by her hatred for white people. A white person just like Roland. Who in the movie version will now be black.

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So could both The Wrap and Deadline got the story slightly wrong, and the producers/writers are perhaps actually pulling some kind of race-reversal here? Cast the black Idris Elba as Roland and then cast the white Abbey Lee as Susannah/Detta, just to maintain that racially charged tension that plays such a huge role in the story of these two characters?

Firstly, if true, I personally feel that would be a horribly misguided attempt to placate the fans upset at the casting of Elba. Secondly, where the frak does the fake human skin and cold snake-like eyes fit in then? Are they just slamming different narrative beats and character in the books together for the first movie irrespective of dedication to the source? With the way King speaks about it, development on the first movie – which is to be directed by Nikolaj Arcel and is expected to launch a franchise which may include a TV series –  should be getting the go-ahead soon and then we’ll be getting the official word straight from the studio. At least I hope so, because all these conflicting reports are doing my head in.

Last Updated: February 22, 2016

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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