Batman vs. Superman, the working title for the Man of Steel sequel, is well on its way to being perceived as something akin to the town idiot: saying crazy stuff and getting yelled at for it by everyone. First there was the news that Ben Affleck would be the new Batman, then Gal Gadot’s casting as Wonder Woman and now the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg, most famous for The Social Network, Zombieland and Now You See Me, will portray Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. It’s an understatement to say that most movie and comic fans were surprised when the news hit. It hit hard.
Most people looking forward to Batman vs. Superman knew there were rumors circulating regarding the inclusion of Lex Luthor, not all that strange considering there was many an easter egg in Man of Steel hinting at his involvement. But the fans weren’t expecting this: a scrawny actor, a very young actor, an actor who wasn’t bald. The ladies and gentlemen on the internet were clamoring for Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), two bald actors who had portrayed bad guys with brains before, not this off-kilter casting decision. And while I have to admit it is an unconventional pick, I’m actually firmly behind it.
Not since Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Heath Ledger’s Joker has there been this much uproar concerning the casting of a role in a major motion picture. Pretty boy Ledger couldn’t ever play a psychotic and sadistic killer like the Joker, the people on the message boards thought. And that Craig bloke? He was just too… blond. By now it’s safe to say that these casting choices worked out fine, not to say great, and most people are aware of this fact. But with every big movie based on an existing property with out-of-left-field casting, there’s another instance of uproar, which usually seems to stem from a lack of imagination, a lack of faith in casting directors, or a combination of both. It seems we want to pigeonhole certain actors in certain roles (“That Mark Strong does play a good villain, eh? Let’s make him do that again!”), which also means we have trouble seeing those actors outside of those types of roles (“Eisenberg? That nerd is playing Luthor?”).
I find pigeonholing extremely boring. What fun is there in going to the movies when actors keep playing the same parts over and over again? And what’s so terrifying to people if actor’s stretch themselves and want to play a type of character they’re not known for? Yes, there’s a risk involved, but isn’t that exciting? Doesn’t that mean that you’re actually in for something surprising? Yes, it can blow up in the actor’s and viewers’ faces, but the odds really are against that. Another common worry is the actor carrying over a certain type of acting to a role for which that type of acting isn’t suited. To that I say a) actor’s usually really challenge themselves with these kinds of high-profile roles because they’re well aware of the risks involved, b) only the people involved with the film know what type of iteration of a character they’re casting a certain actor for, and while the internet gives us the illusion we know almost everything regarding the making of a movie, these types of things are usually kept firmly under wraps. We simply don’t know what casting decisions are based on, because we don’t have the insight.
So, regarding the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, I urge you to relax and just be patient. There’s no way of knowing how it turns out, but being optimistic is a hell of a lot more fun than throwing a hissy fit or standing all depressed in a corner.