You would think that after last summer's insane brouhaha that was "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace", the masses would breathe a sigh of relief.
But the commotion is brewing for the second prequel (yet to be titled), which won't be released until summer 2002. Although it isn't inspiring 'round-the-block lines just yet, it is scheduled to begin filming at Fox Studios Australia this June, so this brings us to the most talked-about casting decision of the year: Who will play the grown-up Anakin Skywalker?
We'll know soon enough. Casting for "Episode II" is going on right this second, according to Jeanne Cole, spokeswoman for Lucasfilm. Casting director Robin Gurland has been seeing "hundreds of actors" for the past month, but no decision has been made yet.
A casting memo that circulated around the Internet -- and was confirmed to be true, according to USA Today -- described to talent agents that candidates should look around 19, since the film takes place 10 years after "Episode I." They should be "self-determined, extremely intelligent and forthright" and "should resemble Jake Lloyd [who played "Episode I's" Anakin]." "Episode II," which is still being written by George Lucas, will focus on the love story between Anakin and Queen Amidala, played by Natalie Portman. As the story goes, Anakin and Amidala eventually marry and spawn Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. By "Episode III," Anakin turns to the Dark Side and becomes the ominously wheezing Darth Vader.
Now before die-hards eager to romance Portman onscreen run out and get their headshots, we're sorry to say that only professional actors with an agent are being considered. This narrows the field to actors who remotely look the part, everyone from Christian Bale to Jude Law to those sons from "Home Improvement."
Now, distinguishing "Star Wars" fact from fiction is harder than distinguishing any phrase out of Jar Jar Binks' Gungan tongue. But we're gonna try our best and give you the rundown of the most talked-about names connected to the Anakin role -- the famous ones, because they're the most amusing -- and what they've reportedly said about it. (For the record, Lucasfilm says the reports of the casting of these actors are "all rumors.")
Name:Leonardo DiCaprio Age: 25 Who?: Star of the upcoming "The Beach" and, uh, that Big Sinking Boat movie. Status: He confirms that he once spoke to Lucas about the role, but not recently, according to the Calgary (Alberta) Sun. "I don't know where I stand for that project," DiCaprio has said. He told IGN Movies that he thought the first prequel "was interesting. I think there's more that can be done, though" and said he was waiting to see the script. Likelihood:: Leo's celebrity power contradicts Lucas' tradition of casting no-names in main roles. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were unknowns at the time of the first "Star Wars." But DiCaprio can look younger if he wants to, he bears passing resemblance to Lloyd, and he's proven he can play dark-hero roles.
Name: Jonathan Jackson Age: 17 Who?: Brooding Lucky Spencer on the soap opera "General Hospital" and Michelle Pfeiffer's brooding son in "Deep End of the Ocean." Status: According to the United Kingdom's Empire magazine, Jackson recently let slip on the set of his latest film that he's supposed to meet Lucas in Los Angeles to discuss the role. Initially, he dismissed casting reports as rumors, but because he accidentally said "I haven't even met George Lucas ... yet," according to the magazine, Jackson finally admitted his plans. "Well, yeah, of course I'll take it if I'm offered. Who wouldn't?" he reportedly said. Likelihood: He's not a big name, he's the right age, and he has the face that can emote innocence and danger at the same time. He's won three Daytime Emmys for "General Hospital," so he has acting chops. Newsweek has reportedly said he's the one to beat. We're saying his chances are pretty good.
Name: Jesse Spencer Age: 20 Who?: Recently left popular Aussie soap opera "Neighbours." Status: Rumors ran that Spencer was already on the list as Anakin, and that it was all timed to his departure from the show and his move to a house in Sydney which is apparently only five minutes from Fox Studios Australia. But Spencer's Internet publicist (yeah, the guy has an Internet publicist), Luke Connell, reportedly says it's all false and that he won't be in "Episode II." Likelihood: He's the right age and is virtually unknown in the United States. We had to look him up to see what he looked like, and the Aussie actor looks like a cross between Ryan Phillippe and Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. We can't tell from his smiling photos whether he can play dark or not.
THE (RUMORED) LONGSHOTS
Names: James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson Age: 22/21 Who?: Hunky stars of the WB's "Dawson's Creek." Van Der Beek, who plays the idealistic, earnest Dawson Leary, starred in "Varsity Blues," while Jackson, the wisecracking Pacey, appears in the upcoming "Skulls." Status: Names were thrown out very, very early in the "Episode II" rumor mill, but no one has named them as remote possibilities of late. Said Van Der Beek in a chat with ET Online: "I can neither confirm nor deny that report. Best way of saying that." Jackson was more forthright in Big Hit Magazine: "I could see how it would be OK for me to play Darth Vader. I would be OK with that. I think there would be many capital offenses that I would be willing to commit for that. But as far as being approached by Mr. George Lucas, it hasn't happened yet. But the door is always open. If he is listening or watching from anywhere nearby ... please?" Likelihood: They're around the right age, but wouldn't working for Lucas contradict Dawson's idolization of Steven Spielberg?
Names: Jonathan Brandis and Ryan Phillippe Age: 23/25 Who?: Blond star of former TV show "SeaQuest DSV" and blond star of "Cruel Intentions," respectively. Status: Both were early mentions. Brandis reportedly told a college paper a while back that he read for the role, but that's unlikely since casting just started. Likelihood: Very slim. Brandis looks nothing like Jake Lloyd, and Phillippe -- well, his baby face is so fragile-looking we're afraid a disapproving look from Yoda alone might kill him.
Names: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck Age: 29/27 Who?: Best friends and hunky stars of "Good Will Hunting"; Damon's in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" while Affleck's in the upcoming "Boiler Room." Status: "No one's called me about that," Affleck told Hollywood.com at the Sundance Film Festival. But if they did, the young Darth Vader wouldn't be his first role of choice. "I think [I'd like to play] Chewie -- you know what I mean? He's a nice anonymous thing." Likelihood: Very, very unlikely -- they're too famous, too old, and we don't want to risk those Boston-bred voice inflections showing up: "I am a Jedi! I'll never turn to the Dahk Sah-ide!"
Names: Russell Crowe, Rick Schroder and Sean Patrick Flanery Age: 35/29/34 Who?: Likely Oscar nominee for "The Insider," former "Silver Spoons" child star-turned "NYPD Blue" tough detective and former "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" star, respectively. Status: Again, names thrown out by wishful thinkers only. Likelihood: Are you kidding us?
Jar Jar Binks bending to the P.C. police? Don't hold your breath. As casting for the second installment of the new "Star Wars" trilogy continues, Lucasfilm is refuting reports that had George Lucas is seeking a more culturally diverse cast in response to accusations of racist stereotyping in "Episode I -- The Phantom Menace".
The original Daily Variety article, published last Wednesday, said the new, politically correct roles would include "a Native American character, said to have a forceful, spiritual nature; an Indian or Hispanic character; and an Asian character, possibly trained in martial arts."
But in a post on the official 'Star Wars' (www.starwars.com) Web site, Lynne Hale, Lucasfilm's director of communications, labels the Variety report "completely false," saying that no character descriptions have been decided on since Lucas is still working on the script.
"The descriptions reported would never be appropriate for a 'Star Wars' film," Hale writes in the message. "'Star Wars' movies have always been populated with a rich cast of characters that make up this fantasy world."
Currently the only role casting directing Robin Gurland is holding auditions for is that of Anakin Skywalker.
Names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and James Van Der Beek have been tossed around -- rather jokingly -- as possible candidates for the future Darth Vader, as have lesser-known names like Jonathan Jackson. But despite the "inside" claims that one blondish actor or another has the edge, Lucas' camp is saying it's all baloney.
"Robin [Gurland] has seen 700 tapes and submissions and met with 300 candidates," says Hale on the site. "She does not have a short list yet and is still exploring many possibilities. I know there have been many reports of actors saying that they have met with George Lucas and have done readings for him, or are the number one choice for Anakin. These are false rumors (but fun to read!)."
Recently rumored to be leading the race is 26-year-old Paul Walker, a little old to be romancing Natalie Portman, we think, especially since her Queen Amidala character looked considerably older than Jake Lloyd's Anakin in "Episode I." But Walker's a veteran of teen films "She's All That" and "Varsity Blues," and according to a source close to his family, he interviewed with Lucas and is the No. 1 choice for the part so far.
"Paul has another movie role in the works that might damper scheduling for 'Episode II,' but Lucas assured him that they could work something out," the source said.
Another name added to the pot is Eric Christian Olsen, of Fox's "Get Real". The college-age Olsen reportedly came to Lucas' attention when he guest-starred on NBC's "ER" as a severely burned patient. Olsen confirmed to IGN Movies that he was "stoked" at meeting Lucas at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the part.
"We'll see what's up, man. I'm stoked. Even no matter what, man, I still get to meet [George Lucas]," Olsen gushed to IGN.
Judging from his vernacular, dude, we've got, like, a bad feeling about this.
LEO'S 'PLUM' DEAL: It's the picture Leonardo DiCaprio would rather forget, but "Don's Plum," an underground movie shot in 1996 starring DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, has been bought by Danish director Lars Von Trier's production company. Von Trier's Zentropa has bought the international sales rights to the film, meaning it'll be released everywhere but North America.
'DUETS' LOSES BACKUP: Gwyneth Paltrow's karaoke film "Duets" is being shopped around to other studios after Disney decided to remove it from its release schedule, the Hollywood Reporter says. The film, directed by Gwyneth's father Bruce Paltrow, was in the can and scheduled to open May 5. But Disney is reportedly removing "Duets," which follows characters across the country to a karaoke competition in Nebraska, due to its "violent content." Which leaves us wondering what on earth could be violent about a movie in which people sing off-key tunes to a Muzak-style accompaniment. Death by microphone-cord strangulation? Barroom brawls over another rendition of "Hey Jude"?
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- Jar Jar Binks, that Gungan cross between Eeyore and Bob Marley, upset a lot of people last summer.
It wasn't just that he was annoying (he was) or stupid (ditto), but that he was (or so some naysayers charged) an intergalactic Stepin Fetchit -- a thinly veiled black stereotype who played the goof while Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and all the other white guys saved the galaxy.
Well, guess who's coming to dinner?
Word comes today that George Lucas, creator and master of the "Star Wars" universe, has taken the complaints of ethnic exclusion in "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" to heart, and he's going to add some color to his (mostly) white-bread fantasy universe.
According to a report in today's Daily Variety, Lucas -- currently at work on the script for "Episode 2," the second installment in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy -- is taking pains to make sure the next film is stocked with more racially diverse (read: politically correct) characters.
Even though Lucas's screenplay isn't finished, Lucasfilm Ltd. casting director Robin Gurland has already met with major talent agencies to mine actors for several roles, including an American Indian with "a forceful, spiritual nature," an Indian and/or Hispanic character and an Asian "possibly trained in martial arts," according to the trade newspaper.
Lucasfilm reps didn't immediately return Hollywood.com's request for a comment. But the report suggests quite a turnabout for Lucasfilm, which initially rejected the charges of racism that spread like wildfire over the Internet and in the media when the film was released in May.
"Nothing in 'Star Wars' was racially motivated," Lucasfilm's Lynne Hale told the Dallas Morning News last year. "'Star Wars' is a fantasy movie. I really do think to dissect this movie as if it had a direct reference to the world today is absurd."
As for the criticism that Jar Jar is a grating presence, Hale said: "It's a children's movie. Kids love him. He's so childish."
While the "yousa"-spewing Jar Jar was the butt of most of the PC criticism directed at "Phantom Menace," other "Phantom Menace" animated characters also were taken to task for perceived nods to Italian, Middle Eastern and Asian stereotypes.
Similar gripes were raised after the release of the original "Star Wars" in 1977. That film was populated with white heroes such as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia. When the sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" came out in 1980, the situation was remedied somewhat with Billy Dee Williams cast as Lando Calrissian.
By the way, Lucas has already said that Jar Jar will be back in "Episode 2."
DARTH MAUL OUTDUELS DINOS: The hubbub over sci-fi stereotypes, meanwhile, certainly didn't dissuade moviegoers from seeing "The Phantom Menace," either here or abroad. In fact, the film has now officially usurped "Jurassic Park" to become the world's second-highest-grossing movie of all time, trailing only "Titanic."
Though it's still oceans away from catching "Titanic," which has grossed $1.8 billion, "The Phantom Menace" seized the No. 2 all-time rank by taking in $922.5 million (and counting). It has now surpassed an impressive list of box-office champs. "Jurassic Park," down to No. 3 on the all-time list, has grossed $920 million; "Independence Day" is the fourth-highest-grossing film with $811.4 million; and the original "Star Wars" remains the fifth-highest-grossing movie (thanks in large part to its 1997 re-release) with $775.8 million.