It’s been rumoured for months but finally it’s confirmed: Idris Elba will strap on the six shooters of the last Gunslinger of Gilead, Roland Deschain, and pursue Matthew McConaughey’s Randall Flag (or one of a multitude of names), The Man in Black, on the road to The Dark Tower. Author Stephen King announced the official casting last night with a simple tweet:
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
And shortly afterwards (or… was it?) from Idris Elba himself:
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) March 1, 2016
Then followed (in yet another role-reversal – hah!) by McConaughey:
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) March 1, 2016
Now this is going to be a controversial casting – and yes, it’s because Idris Elba is a person of colour and Roland is white in the novels. Ordinarily I don’t think race or gender swapping characters is a big issue that demands much wailing and gnashing of teeth because unless you’re fighting crime with the power of white skin or a penis, it doesn’t define the character – their um… character… does.
However in this instance the colour of Roland’s skin has a major impact on his relationship with Susannah/Detta in the novels as the latter despises those “honky mahfuhs” and is a major source of friction between her and the other characters. I would guess that she wouldn’t be too impressed by “Uncle Tom mahfuhs” either though.
It’ll be interesting to see how they resolve this, and it’s a question that co-writer/director Nikolaj Arcel addressed in a recent interview between himself and Stephen King, and Entertainment Weekly:
Some fans are asking, understandably, ‘What about the racial tension?’ But as the story progresses that will be made clear, how we’ll deal with all those things.
Basically wait and see, which will be an unsatisfactory answer for those demanding to know right now. It’s also a fair one because you don’t spoil the story months in advance, and there are always changes made to the source material when bringing novels to the big screen because things that work well on paper don’t work well on film and vice versa.
King admitted that while he himself has often pictured Roland in more of a Clint Eastwood-type way – as many fans do – that’s changed over the years. He’s also a big fan of Elba and is keen to see him bring the character to life:
I love it. I think he’s a terrific actor, one of the best working in the business now. I visualized [Clint] Eastwood as Roland. I loved the Spaghetti Westerns and all those widescreen close-ups of his face, especially the ones where he’d been left out in the desert and was all covered with blisters and sunburn. I thought, ‘That’s my Roland.’
As the years went by, [the character] became a more particular individual in my own mind. He wasn’t Eastwood anymore. He was just … Roland. For me the character is still the character. It’s almost a Sergio Leone character, like ‘the man with no name’. He can be white or black, it makes no difference to me. I think it opens all kind of exciting possibilities for the backstory.
One of the more surprising changes revealed in the interview is that the movie won’t start at the beginning as many anticipated, instead it’ll be starting
at Episode IV somewhere in the middle with King saying:
[The movie] starts in media res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning, which may upset some of the fans a little bit, but they’ll get behind it, because it is the story.
Neither elaborated much on that, but Arcel did add, “a lot of it takes place in our day, in the modern world”. Something which he thinks is a strength of the author’s:
What Stephen King does best is mixing the everyday, or what you might call the mundane, with the fantastical. In my view, [The Dark Tower] novels are a mix between sci-fi and fantasy and modern times. That exact mix is so Stephen King.
Arcel is understandably very excited to work with actors the calibre of Elba and McConaughey, saying of Elba:
For me, it just clicked. He’s such a formidable man. I had to go to Idris and tell him my vision for the entire journey with Roland and the ka-tet [his companions]. We discussed, who is this character? What’s he about? What’s his quest? What’s his psychology? We tried to figure out if we saw the same guy. And we absolutely had all the same ideas and thoughts. He had a unique vision for who Roland would be.
Matthew is an incredible actor who can do anything. That’s how I feel about Walter Padick [one of Randall Flagg’s many names]. He could do anything…He is this timeless sorcerer, and being a Stephen King fan, I’ve read and experienced Walter in various iterations. He has a very interesting way of seeing the world. He sees it with a sort of delight, even though he is obviously on the wrong side of the light-and-dark spectrum. He’s someone I’ve been having a lot of fun with.
And finally while all roads may lead to The Dark Tower, it’s been a long hard road for the project to finally arrive on our screens as the author confirmed:
The thing is, it’s been a looong trip from the books to the film. When you think about it, I started these stories as a senior in college, sitting in a little sh*tty cabin beside the river in Maine, and finally this thing is actually in pre-production now. I’m delighted, and I’m a little bit surprised.
After all the false starts, so are we. Filming is set to start locally, yes right here in the newly formed Desert Republic of South Africa, in a little under two months – so if you keep an eye open you may just spot The Man in Black or the Gunslinger on the road to
Nkandla The Dark Tower.
So, what do you think of the casting choices and the decision to start the story in the middle?
Last Updated: March 2, 2016