Undefended: They Should Have Switched Places

In his review of “The Talented Mr Ripley,” Anthony Lane complains of the obvious casting choices. Matt Damon as the pasty, deviant recluse and Jude Law as the beach-going playboy… how much more interesting would the movie have been had they switched roles? As much as I like “Ripley,” I’ve always been fascinated by the suggestion. This week, five movies that would have been better had the lead actor/actress and the supporting actor/actress switched places.

Remy Wilkins:

  1. Faye Dunaway switches with Jack Nicholson in Chinatown: Tinkering with classics might be frowned upon, but I can’t help but wish for a movie where Faye gets to do more than whimper and get slapped. Faye as Jane Gittes sleuthing and slapping Jack around would be worth a remake.
  2. Philip Seymour Hoffman switches with Adam Sandler in Punchdrunk Love: There’s no question that this is Sandler’s best role and he does a remarkable job, but only good things could happen when giving PSH more screentime.
  3. Julie Delpy switches with Zbigniew Zamachowski in Three Colors: White: Frequently there is a disparity between roles, but both roles in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film are so fully formed the flipping doesn’t reveal inequalities, but merely another entertaining film.
  4. Jodie Foster switches with Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs: While I’m not sure Forster has the chops for it, I certainly think switching the genders makes for an even more terrifying baddie.
  5. Tommy Lee Jones switches with Will Smith in Men In Black: Will Smith hasn’t gotten to play the straight man to a zany rule-breaking oldster, but how much would TLJ crush this role? The correct answer is LOTS.

Joshua Gibbs:

  1. Oscar (Matthau) and Felix (Lemon) from The Odd Couple switch places: These guys were born to play these roles, but imagining a fussy Matthau serving a perfect BLT to a table of dudes drinking beer… well, that’s the kind of stretch he needed. Lemon is always uptight. At least once, he really needed to just let it all hang out.
  2. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins switch places in The Silence of the Lambs: Anthony Hopkins is typically cast to have perfect control, and Jodie Foster is always at the end of her nerves. I’d like to see Hopkins vulnerable and Foster calling the shots. Hopkins could be Clarence. “Hello, Clarence.”
  3. Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney switch places in Michael Clayton: The always-underused Wilkinson gets a lead role in which to unravel, Clooney gets to go insane.
  4. Shuffle up Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson in No Country For Old Men: Everyone’s at the top of their game in this one, and while it’s a well cast movie, the three gringos are all in roles they’ve played time and again, and Bardem is too good at being wicked. What’s Bardem like when he’s being hunted? What’s Jones do when he’s a sucker? I’d like to know.
  5. Jim Carey and Noah Emmerich switch places in The Truman Show: Emmerich has proved he has the chops for a lead in “The American,” and Carey ought to have a crack at a realistic villain (as opposed to The Riddler).
  6. Kudos to “Being John Malkovich,” a film wherein the expected female roles are already switched. I’d expect Keener to get the part of the dumpy housewife and Diaz the seductress.

Sean Johnson:

  1. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast At Tiffany’s: Both characters are already lost and selling themselves, and when one considers the trajectories of their personal lives Hepburn as the strong support to Peppard’s vulnerable insecurity isn’t a stretch. (All told, I’d probably be comfortable swapping Hepburn into any role ever played by anyone ever.)
  2. Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy in “Fargo”: Technically, they’re both in supporting roles already, but both actors do nervousness and desperation so well yet so differently. Buscemi as the wide-eyed (those eyes!), conflicted husband; Macy as the cool customer (his innate nervousness would still probably bubble up and complicate the character)—I’d watch that movie.
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski: [undefended]
  4. Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception: Inception gave Hardy a big career bump as it is, but I think he could’ve run the table as Cobb. DiCaprio is versatile, but I find him unengaging when he isn’t playing a steep angle, so the slick, knowing Eames might have been a good fight. And, if there was any value in Django Unchained it was the revelation that DiCaprio might be better off taking a backseat once in a while.
  5. Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys: Willis is great at slightly-crazy, and he has surprising range when he’s asked to show it (which is not often), so I’d love to see him take a run at mostly-crazy. Shot the same year as Se7en, there’s little doubt Pitt would carry the weight on his end.

H.M.: Hayden Christensen and any of the Clone Trooper extras in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Fraser Martens: Next week’s undefended: “Most Interesting Roles Audrey Hepburn Could Have Played,” including the Terminator and Donny from the Big Lebowski.

Timothy Lawrence: “Audrey, you’re out of your element.”

Sean Johnson: “Audrey, where’s my car?”

Joshua Gibbs:

Sean John, two of your picks were ones I wavered on. I want to see Tom Hardy read a phone book, so subbing him out for Dicraprio in a role Dicaprio was only mediocre in was tempting. Also was thinking Willis and Pitt in 12 Monkeys… Bruce Willis jumping from bed to bed yelling ‘No more monkey business!’ Yes.

I am only seeing now that Remy already had Jodie and Tony switching places in “Lambs,” but it’s just too perfect.

Fraser Martens:

  1. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday Having Hildy be a woman and the main character’s ex-wife was already an addition from the original play. Go all the way, and let Rosalind Russell sink her teeth into the self-possessed woman who comes looking for the husband she never should have gotten rid of.
  2. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master: PSH is a major fixture on this list, because it seemed like there was no role he couldn’t play. Suggesting this switch is no slight on the roles they actually took; with the kinds of casts PT Anderson assembles, rearranging role is more like letting the members of a theater company experiment with each other’s parts to see what happens.
  3. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzmann, and Adrian Brody, The Darjeeling Limited: Speaking of acting troupes in need of a shuffle, all three Wes Anderson regulars spend Darjeeling playing tragic versions of their stock characters. Shuffle them into any other configuration you like and you’d have a chance at making a second tier Wes Anderson film into one of his best.
  4. Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings: Nothing against Viggo, but I bet Sean Bean would have loved to make it through the whole of a series without dying. And the idea of a Viggo Mortensen Boromir – a Boromir who’s a little mystical, driven by his dreams and a half-understood sense of his own destiny – would be way more interesting than the straight-ahead Boromir we got.
  5. Ben Kingsley and Leo DiCaprio, Shutter Island: Ben Kingsley might be modern cinema’s most frequently wasted great actor, here playing Morally Compromised Authority Figure for what seems like the 20th time against DiCaprio’s usual intense emoting. But imagine Kingsley as the detective, old and jaded, who begins to suspect that DiCaprio’s terrifyingly charismatic leadership at the asylum has a dark side…
Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books, collects records and jogs to work. He and his wife have two children, both of whom have seven names. He tweets at @joshgibbs and blogs for the CiRCE Institute.

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