Risk Vs Reward: Recasting Leads In Film & TV Shows

The Witcher

In news that surprised almost everyone, Henry Cavill has announced he is leaving his role of Geralt of Rivia in Netflix‘s The Witcher. After the third season, the role will be recast, with Liam Hemsworth picking up the sword and medallion. Cavill famously campaigned for the role, and the series is a big hit for Netflix, with them making several spin-offs based around the series. This has led to several theories about why Cavill is leaving, as well as a petition to bring him back. Whatever the reason, Hemsworth has some big shoes to fill, as recasting a leading role can be tricky. However while some shows have struggled, others have come through just fine, or even better with a new lead.

Change, My Dear

Doctor Who changes lead actors with the Doctor "regenerating" into a different body when fatally injured
Doctor Who changes lead actors with the Doctor “regenerating” into a different body when fatally injured // Credit: BBC, 2017

When faced with the option of recasting, some series are faced with another question: actually recast, or introduce a new character? Sitcoms often opt for the latter, with varying results. Everything from The Office, That 70’s Show to Only Fools and Horses and Community has had to deal with cast members leaving for other opportunities, behind-the-scenes drama, or an actor’s death. While the first two of these examples were less than successful, their replacements didn’t quite have the same chemistry as the regulars. The latter two did create some much-loved characters. A key part of the success is that, while they may fill the same role, they do not have to be the same character to do so. For Only Fools and Horses, Grandad and Uncle Albert, both fill the role of an incompetent elder member of the family, but their characters are very different, both in how they are treated and how they act. Jokes that work for one character would not work for the other, and vice versa, which the show embraces.

We already know that Hemsworth is going to be playing the same character. For all intents and purposes, Geralt will be the same. What remains to be seen is whether the show chooses to acknowledge it, and how Hemsworth approaches the role. With all the magic and mutations going on in The Witcher, there are certainly ways the showrunners could acknowledge the change if they wished too. Doctor Who writes the changing of it’s lead actor into the story with regeneration, which has not only allowed the show to carry on for 60 years, but also semi-reboot itself every few years. Every actor puts their own spin on the role, but they all play the same character. The act of regeneration allows for a change in personality, which helps every portrayal be different.

You Look Different

Liam McIntyre took on the lead role in Spartacus, when original star Andy Whitfield became ill
Liam McIntyre took on the lead role in Spartacus when original star Andy Whitfield became ill // Credit, Starz, 2011

Of course, many famous characters have changed faces. Batman, James Bond, Spider-Man to name a few. There may be similarities between each version of the character, something that Spider-Man: No Way Home explored, but each actor isn’t trying to copy what came before. These are often considered reboots, with each version being disconnected from other versions (although there are exceptions). This allows actors greater freedom, as they do not have to fit their version into an existing world. For example, it’s hard to imagine Daniel Craig’s Bond in Moonraker or Christian Bales’ Batman in Batman & Robin. A challenge that a recast on TV faces is putting a new version of the character in a world established by the previous actor.

One of the more successful recasts is of the title character in Spartacus. After a successful first season, star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with early-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma, meaning he was unavailable for filming a second season. After a prequel season that featured him less, he gave his blessing for the role to be recast and passed away before the third season aired. Liam McIntyre leads the series for the rest of its run. Upon being cast, he realised he could not simply recreate Whitfield’s performance. As a result, he opted for the “emotional core” of the character. Playing the same character, in the same world, but in his way, rather than an impression of what came before.

This is likely the space Hemsworth’s version of Geralt will occupy. While his relationship with characters like Ciri and Yennifer will not change, we will see some different sides to him. This is one aspect that has been explored in the games. Unlike most games in the genre, Geralt is a character, not a blank slate. However the player can still make choices that can affect the plot, but these are presented in a way that they are still in character for him. Cavill is iconic as Geralt for a reason, but Hemsworth can certainly bring something new to the character.

Also Read: Small Screen To Big Screen: TV Shows That Deserve A Movie

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