EXTRA: The Anakin Sweepstakes

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.


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?