Casting Gargoyles by Jerry Whitworth
Recently, Richard Rushfield of the entertainment newsletter The Ankler reported actor/director Jordan Peele approached Disney about producing a live action adaptation of its critically-acclaimed, cult classic animated series Gargoyles. The report went on to say, however, that given Peele’s momentum from his blockbuster hit Get Out (2017), the studio did not want to turn him down but was unwilling to greenlight the project and likely hopes Peele will take on another film and forget about the pitch. The news of the pitch though has spread like wildfire generating a lot of buzz online which could give Disney pause to genuinely consider the film (not unlike the impetus leading to 2016’s hit Deadpool). Gargoyles was a 1994 animated series created for the Disney Afternoon programming block to spotlight the company’s burgeoning animated television division. Created by Greg Weisman, known better today for Young Justice, Gargoyles ran for two seasons and featured a clan of magical guardian gargoyles in tenth century Scotland that were stone by day and flesh by night put to sleep in stone for a thousand years until awoken for a malevolent purpose by wealthy genius David Xanatos. Living in modern day Manhattan, the gargoyles combated Xanatos, rogue gargoyle Demona, unaging Scottish king Macbeth, mercenary band the Pack, ancient magician Archmage, and all manner of magical beings like Puck, Oberon, and the Weird Sisters of Shakespearean lore. The show failed to attain the level of massive ratings of competing series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Batman: The Animated Series, and X-Men leading to its cancellation. A second animated series created largely without input from Weisman emerged called Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles in 1996 but was so reviled, future printed installments of the franchise treated it as non-canonical. In 2006, Gargoyles found second life as a comic book series written by Weisman for Slave Labor Graphics and Creature Comics continuing the show’s narrative until 2009 when Disney raised its licensing fee and the publisher abandoned it. Joe Books, who currently has the license to produce many Disney properties, planned on releasing a cinestory based on the first five episodes of the television series in 2016 but lack of pre-orders led to its delay and eventual cancellation. If the the buzz surrounding Gargoyles‘ adaptation into a major motion picture pan out, lets take a look as to who could portray its characters.
British actor Idris Elba is known for his roles in The Wire, Luther, and the Thor series of films from Marvel Studios. With an acting career spanning over two decades, Elba is an ideal Goliath due to his impressive physique, history with action work, and a strong, calm presence giving him a commanding disposition, inherent sensuality, and voice drenched in gravitas. In Gargoyles, Goliath is the leader of the Manhattan Clan (the series’ titular gargoyles) and star of the series whose complicated relationship with police detective Elisa Maza drives much of the drama of the narrative when he’s not fighting an armored billionaire and his robots or his deranged millennia old ex-lover. Portrayed by Keith David in the animated series, David also lent his voice to police officer Morgan, a frequent ally to Maza who had a romantic interest in her. Elba portraying both characters could be a callback to this turn in the series as well as an interesting dynamic as the bond grows between Goliath and Maza that Morgan essentially represents some semblance of what a human Goliath could offer her. In another way, it could in a manner herald back to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent as two separate characters and how those definitions created a contrast for his relationship with Lois Lane.
No stranger to genre work, Rosario Dawson is known for her roles in Men in Black II (2002), the Sin City films, and the various separate series of Netflix’s Defenders universe. At home playing dramatic, comedic, or action parts, Dawson is an admitted geek which tends to see her invest heavily in her roles for fantasy adaptation work treating the material seriously and respectfully that undoubtedly comes through in its portrayal. Her scrappy and determined nature make her a good fit for Detective Elisa Maza, a born and raised New Yorker following in her father’s footsteps to become a police officer. Maza becomes entangled with the bizarre world brought on by the arrival of the Manhattan clan as the series’ deuteragonist and develops a complicated relationship with their leader Goliath whom each share romantic feelings for each other but are two separate species. Time and again, Maza protects the lives of the gargoyles as they slumber vulnerable during the day as lifeless statues and fights alongside them as they face fantastic threats.
Known best for his portrayal of the seventh Doctor of the decades spanning SF series Doctor Who, Scottish actor Sylvester McCoy enjoyed roles in genre work following his leaving Who in the Hobbit film series and Netflix show Sense8. With a career spanning over half a century, McCoy is a master thespian often portraying eccentric characters with a surprising degree of depth to them. Such would make him a remarkable choice for Hudson, former leader of the Manhattan Clan from when it existed in the tenth century who acts as a mentor to Goliath. Unique in his wielding a sword in battle and identified by the scar across his left eye, Hudson is often times a more laid back member of the clan during its calm periods but whose guile and experience makes him perhaps the most dangerous within the group. Hudson is often accompanied by Bronx, a more dog-like gargoyle in the clan who lacks speech or bipedal movement like the others.
Known for his youthful, handsome face, Josh Hartnett has worked as a professional actor for over two decades and is known for his roles in Pearl Harbor (2001), 30 Days of Night (2007), and Penny Dreadful. Often cast as the male lead of his projects, Hartnett’s attractive features have arguably undercut some of his intense dramatic work as he has brilliantly played parts with pathos and reverence only for his appearance to instead be called to attention. Much of this defines Brooklyn, Goliath’s youthful second-in-command who is arguably the more attractive member of his clan but whose lack of experience yet over abundance of enthusiasm has often brought him undone. It wouldn’t be until Brooklyn is lost to his clan that he comes into his own as a leader.
Best known by his nickname “Fluffy,” Gabriel Iglesias is a rotund comedian frequently working as a comedic voice actor but also for his parts in the Magic Mike films. On his surface, Broadway is best identified as the slow, overweight member of the Manhattan clan whose power makes him a force to be reckoned with but his limited wits often paints him as comedic relief. As with Brooklyn, however, the character undergoes a journey brought on by his romantic relationship with Angela, biological daughter of Goliath and Demona.
Experiencing a bursting degree of exposure for his parts in Atlanta and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) as well as his work as hit musician Childish Gambino, Donald Glover is undergoing a career renaissance not unlike that of Jordan Peele whose initial comedic stylings is being overshadowed by his dramatic turn winning awards and accolades across the board. This journey mirrors that of Lexington, smallest of the Manhattan clan but whose inherent genius and capability to adapt to the new world the gargoyles have been dropped into quickly see Lexington become its most vital member. Given Glover’s range to see him easily slip into comedic and dramatic roles, he has all the tools to be a perfect Lexington.
The man of a thousand voices, Frank Welker is an icon in voice acting having lent his voice to nearly a thousand roles. Some of his more iconic parts being Fred Jones and Megatron (as well as Scooby-Doo since 2002), Welker acted as the “voice” of Bronx (though, more accurately, barks, growls, and moans) in the original Gargoyles. While it’s likely a live action Gargoyles would feature face capture technology and motion capture suits, given the dog-like nature of Bronx, voice work maybe all that his actor would require making the 72-year old Welker an ideal reprisal of his original role.
Intense and commanding, Mads Mikkelsen has often played the part of the villain for his stoic disposition and capability to instill fear with a mere glance. Known for his roles in Hannibal, Doctor Strange (2016), and the upcoming video game Death Stranding, Mikkelsen also has an inherent sensuality that permeates his dark roles making him the perfect predator for any role that calls for it. These skills would serve Mikkelsen well in the role of David Xanatos, nemesis of the Manhattan clan turned ally-in-conflict. Handsome, genius, wealthy, and manipulative, Xanatos may very well be the most dangerous man on Earth. While having an athletic physique, Xanatos relies chiefly on his intellect but dons a Goliath-inspired battle armor and cadre of robots (including the Goliath-inspired Steel Clan and his Pack avatar Coyote) to quell any threats to his family and empire.
Relatively young in her acting career, Sonequa Martin-Green has already made a name for herself with her notable roles in The Walking Dead and as the lead in Star Trek: Discovery. Gorgeous, intelligent, and commanding, Martin-Green rose from a secondary character in her role of Sasha Williams in TWD to becoming a main character through her portrayal and reaction by fans to her work. These skills parallel that of Gargoyles‘ Demona whose role as a secondary antagonist saw her develop into a primary nemesis before becoming a somewhat ally-in-conflict. Part of the conspiracy that lead to the millennia long slumber of her surviving kind, Demona escaped that curse to fall prey to another when she aligned with the Scottish noble Macbeth and both were afflicted with eternal youth. Through the centuries, Demona’s hatred for humanity led to her goal to wipe out the species. Toward this end, she manipulated David Xanatos in awakening Goliath and his companions in hope they would join her cause only to instead oppose her. Demona’s hardened heart, however, would soften when she learned her biological daughter Angela survived and continued to live.
Getting his big break as the villainous Sylar on Heroes, Zachary Quinto rose to super stardom in his portrayal of Spock in the rebooted Star Trek film series. Known for his precise, methodical approach to acting, Quinto has demonstrated a greater range in his various murderous characters across seasons of American Horror Story. Owen Burnett, the right hand of David Xanatos in Gargoyles, is a stoic attendant that hides his secret alternative identity of the magical Puck. A trickster wielding immense magical power, Puck became intrigued during interactions with Xanatos and came to serve the mortal for the length of his life. Later, when Xanatos married a daughter of the fairy queen Titania and the couple bore a child in Alexander, Puck became his tutor but was stuck in his Owen form at all other times.
Arguably one of the greatest living actors today, Irish-born Liam Neeson has a career spanning over four decades who has seen a resurgence of late as an action star following the success of his Taken series of films. No stranger to genre work having played in Krull (1983), Darkman (1990), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Batman Begins (2005), and lent his voice to the Chronicles of Narnia films, Neeson would be a great addition to any cast but especially in the fantasy/SF field. The Macbeth of Gargoyles, based on the Shakespearean character, is a complicated figure who is honorable to a fault but is desperate in his struggle to destroy Demona, and in turn himself. In time, though, Macbeth demonstrated himself as more of an ally to the Manhattan clan than their enemy.
Becoming something of SF royalty for her parts in Avatar as well as the Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy series of films, Zoe Saldana is one of Hollywood’s most notable actresses having become the epitome of the strong female lead. In this, she would be a prime fit for the role of Fox, leader of the Pack and later wife to David Xanatos. Daughter of the fairy queen Titania and Xanatos’ bitter business rival Halcyon Renard, Fox is full of untapped magical potential that has manifested in various ways throughout the series. In time, she became in ally-in-conflict with the Manhattan clan as the group reconciled with her husband.
Making a career out of the villainous underling role, Kevin Durand has starred in such films as X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Legion (2010), and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013). With his athletic build and natural intimidating demeanor, Durand could easily accomplish the dual role of Hakon and Wolf. Similar to the noted casting of Goliath and Morgan, in the original Gargoyles, both Hakon and Wolf were voiced by Clancy Brown where it was explained Wolf is a descendant of the viking. Hakon was the leader of the viking band that attacked Castle Wyvern, home to Goliath’s clan, only to be repelled by the gargoyle guardians at night. Due to the treachery of the Captain of the Guard and Demona, Hakon and his band took the castle and destroyed the slumbering gargoyles within. Goliath and the other surviving gargoyles combated the vikings again as the Captain killed Hakon and himself. Wolf, Hakon’s descendant, was the strongman of the Pack that was later transformed into a werewolf-like creature.
With a nearly three decade long career, Jada Pinkett Smith has been a strong female character actor for years known for her roles in Menace II Society (1993), Gotham, and the Matrix films. Daniel Kaluuya, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer experiencing recent success in such films as Get Out (2017) and Black Panther (2018). Regardless, given Smith’s youthful appearance and her commanding presence that matches that of Kaluuya, the pair would make a convincing portrayal of the psychotic siblings Hyena and Jackal. A duo in the Pack with razor sharp claws, Hyena and Jackal would later be turned into cyborgs to make them more effective against the Manhattan clan. Hyena had an attraction to Xanatos’ bionic avatar Coyote and Jackal for a time was the avatar for the Egyptian god Anubis who planned to wipe out all life on Earth.
Australian actor Sam Worthington made a name for himself as an action star in several SF films including Avatar (2009), Terminator Salvation (2009), and the Clash of the Titans film series. These SF action chops make him equipped to masterfully bring to life the Australian mercenary Dingo. Employing a firearm and later a battlesuit, Dingo was a legitimate soldier in the Pack among a gang of mentally disturbed individuals. Dingo managed to avoid jail unlike his teammates but grew disgusted at the inhumanity of his allies, abandoning the group to return to his home country. This turn would take Dingo on a road to redemption seeing him become a hero.
The star of the latest Star Wars film trilogy, Daisy Ridley is an English actress relatively new to the business with Star Wars being her breakout role. The part of Princess Katharine is an important albeit supporting character in Gargoyles. Ruler over Castle Wyvern during Goliath’s time as it’s gargoyles’ leader, Katharine was disgusted with the creatures she relied upon to guard her home. It wouldn’t be until Goliath saved her life from Hakon that her heart changed and she dedicated herself to protecting the legacy of the gargoyles by guarding their eggs. She would flee to Avalon, a magical island home to the fay (fairy folk) abandoned by its inhabitants during a millennia long period, where she raised the eggs and ruled over them as a benevolent mother with a human commoner named Tom, a boy that admired the gargoyles and survived the vikings’ attack, who became her husband. When the Archmage claimed Avalon for himself, Katharine and Tom fought alongside the gargoyles to defend it.
A young British actor whose career exploded with the Netflix hit Stranger Things, Charlie Heaton is a newcomer on the acting scene looking to make a splash at the box office with the upcoming New Mutants in 2019. Heaton could deliver a strong performance as Magus, court magician of Castle Wyvern and adviser to Princess Katherine. Sharing Katherine’s disgust of the gargoyles, Magus placed the curse on Goliath’s band when he falsely believed they were responsible for Katherine’s death (in reality, Goliath had saved Katherine). Realizing too late the mistake he made, Magus felt he had to atone for his crime and joined Katherine is safeguarding the gargoyles’ eggs during and after their move to Avalon. Magus sacrificed his life in the battle with his teacher the Archmage’s forces.
Well known for his role of Alastor Moody in the Harry Potter films, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson has been performing for over three decades. A multi-award winner including an Emmy, Gleeson can add depth to the conflicted character of the unnamed Captain of the Guard. Referred as the “Captain of the Gargoyles” by his men, the Captain headed the defenses for Castle Wyvern but felt more kinship for its gargoyles than its people. This connection to the gargoyles lead to his betrayal of his post, aiding the vikings by giving them entry into the castle under the agreement they leave the slumbering gargoyles alone. Unfortunately, the vikings destroyed all of them. When Goliath and his surviving clan members caught up with the vikings, their leader Hakon outed the Captain’s involvement leading to the two scuffling and falling to their deaths off a cliff.
NOTE: While having cast the major players of this film, it is my hope the voice actors of the original series, many of whom are notable screen actors in their own right (especially from the various incarnations of Star Trek), will put in appearances in a multitude of cameos.