Aside from being the son of a well-known film director, and for being an accomplished Academy Award-nominated filmmaker in his own right, Jason Reitman is perhaps most famous for his live stage readings of well-known screenplays at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Reitman has staged Ghostbusters and The Big Lebowski, in the past, but this month’s entry is truly ambitious: The Empire Strikes Back. As much as casting is tricky whenever one of these readings is mounted, it must be no easy task to fill the mythic shoes of Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams and Frank Oz. Reitman recently revealed who will play some of the key roles in his Empire reading, and in an interview he highlighted the reasons why he’s chosen the chosen ones.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Reitman revealed his choices, and reasons there in, for the roles of Luke, Darth Vader, C-3PO, Lando Calrissian and Yoda.
For the hero of the piece, Luke Skywalker, Reitman struggled with the idea of who would be a good comparisons to Hamill and his “sweet, innocent farmboy on Tatooine” routine. Eventually though, Reitman decided to go in a different direction and choose someone more “streetwise,” Aaron Paul. “Jesse from Breaking Bad questions authority in a much different way than Luke Skywalker does,” Reitman said. “He growls at it, and his annoyance at his journey will be unique from the traditional boy-to-man transition.”
For the pivotal role of the villainous Darth Vader, Reitman went against type again by not recruiting someone with a particular deep or “evil” voice. Instead, he cast J.K. Simmons, perhaps best known to genre fans for being the Spider-Man irritated Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, who has been getting rave reviews for his performance in the drama Whiplash. “He has to be able to be fatherly and evil simultaneously, and no one has explored that idea more than J.K. Simmons in Whiplash,” Reitman said. “Darth Vader is someone who has it within him to cut his own son’s hand off, but not send his son to his death.”
Stepping into the part of the protocol droid Threepio, played by Daniels through six Star Wars movies, several animated series, radio specials and TV appearances, is Stephen Merchant. Merchant, star and co-creator of HBO’s Hello Ladies, has taken part in these Reitman readings before playing the Woody Allen part in Manhattan, but don’t expect to roll up to the reading in a gold suit or anything. “It would be great if I made him wear gold teeth,” Reitman said adding, “He’s tall, gangly, British, and has a great sense of humor, so I knew he’d crush the role of C-3PO.”
The man now playing Lando is no stranger to administration, after all, he was the leader of the free world on 24. Dennis Haysbert, who worked with Reitman on his last film, will play the part of Han Solo’s double-crossing pal and leader of Cloud City. And yes, the fact that Haysbert has one of the smoothest voices in Hollywood definitely played a part in his casting. “Dennis has one of the greatest voices I ever worked with and I had a blast with him on Men, Women, and Children, so he seemed like a perfect fit,” Reitman said.
Finally, for the part of Jedi master Yoda, Reitman went with one of his regular players. “We need a Yoda, and I needed someone who is brilliant with voices, because there are also countless Imperial officers who are strangled by Vader,” the director explained. And thus, Kevin Pollack got the role.
“Kevin makes interesting choices, though. Half the time he will do a perfect imitation of the original, and half the time he does something new,” added Reitman. “I don’t know what to expect. He could sound exactly like Frank Oz, or I could end up with Alan Arkin as Yoda.”
But wait. Aren’t we forgetting someone you, may ask. Well technically we’re missing two someones, the actors that will play Han Solo and Princess Leia. Reitman will reveal those at a later time, but forget him! Who would you like to see reading for those roles? Chris Pratt for Han? Emily Blunt for Leia? I don’t know. Give us your suggestions, Bastards.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, and you think you might like to attend, the live reading of The Empire Strikes Back, it takes place tomorrow night at the Ace Hotel Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets can be found online here.