Big Damn Heroes Casting Choices: Hard Cognition
This is for those interesting in knowing the thought process behind why certain casting choices were made for my story Big Damn Heroes.
BrightEyed-Jill did a lot of the initial casting, particularly for the roles of Nathan, Elle, Mohinder, and Peter, which never really changed when I decided to write the story. She discussed her casting with me, and I did some further thought on the roles when I took up this gauntlet.
Nathan was the most obvious choice for the Malcom Reynolds role. Though Nathan was never as unsophisticated as Mal, or had as much of a sense of humor, he was the only one we felt had the presence and strength to pull off both Mal’s military background and have the sheer will to hold together Serenity’s crew.
Having Elle in the Jayne role was also a virtual no-brainer. We needed someone who liked violence, but would have some concept of loyalty. Elle had loyalty to the Company in the Heroes series, but was also delighted to use her abilities to annoy, irk, damage, or fry anyone who got in her way.
Mohinder as Simon was a logical fit. A young hot skilled doctor? Score!
Peter as River had some debate, and for a while Sylar was considered for this part, but it really came down to a list of necessary qualities that we felt were essential to the River character. Namely, vulnerability, innocence, craziness, and the potential to be an absolute badass. While Sylar had the later two in spades, he didn’t project much of the former two, while Peter could have all four qualities.
The other roles were somewhat harder to cast.
For Wash I eventually settled on Hiro. One of Wash’s most memorable attributes on Firefly was his sense of humor. While Heroes isn’t the funniest show on television, there are some humorous moments, and most of them occur when Hiro is on the screen. Hiro has also shown some flashes of competence lately, and has great dedication to a cause, so he ended up working pretty well. For a while I considered Micah as Wash, but I eventually dismissed that for the same reason I couldn’t cast Micah as Kaylee: Micah’s powers negate one of Serenity’s charms, that of her occasional unreliability.
Casting Wash’s role also makes one consider who should be his wife Zoë. There are two prominent married couples in the main Heroes cast that I considered, namely Niki and DL and Nathan and Heidi. While Niki might have made a good Zoë, DL really wouldn’t have worked as Wash; he’s too serious and dour. I needed Nathan as Mal, and I couldn’t quite see Heidi as a soldier, so I just had to stab out in whole new directions.
Since I’d decided to play fast and loose with ages and relationships amongst the Heroes cast, I looked farther afield to find Hiro’s badass soldier wife. Luckily season three of Heroes gave us Badass!Brunette!Future!Claire, which made me see her as less of a victim and more of a potential mover and shaker. So Claire became Zoë. I discarded the father/daughter relationship between Nathan and Claire for the fellow soldier relationship between Mal and Zoë and the husband wife dynamic between Zoë and Wash.
The Kaylee character demanded someone with a sunny disposition and a modicum of confidence in her chosen field. I wanted to keep the ‘sister’ dynamic between her and the Inara character, so I thought I’d like a woman for that role. Molly turned out to be the perfect Kaylee for me. Obviously I advanced her age to her early twenties, but that still puts her as one of the youngest on Serenity’s crew, as it is on Firefly. I will not be keeping the Simon/Kaylee tentative romance, but I might have some hilarious misunderstandings about it! (At least, ya know, I think they’re hilarious. You might think otherwise!)
Inara’s character is very complex and I had to think a lot about who I could cast for her. Inara has to have UST (unresolved sexual tension) with the Mal character, sisterly companionship with the Kaylee character, philosophical differences with the Book character, tolerant distain for the Jayne character, motherly concern for the river character, and good friendly vibes with the rest of the cast. She needed compassion, confidence, class, and beauty. All in all, that’s a tall order.
Peter was briefly considered, but I really needed him as River. I really thought about Heidi, even wrote some scenes with her, but it didn’t work out. Since poor Heidi was never terribly affectionate with Nathan in Heroes, there was a sort of cool barrier to the UST I needed between Heidi-as-Inara and Nathan-as-Mal. Enter Ali Larder’s suite of characters. Niki had the compassion, love, and even occasional vulnerability I wanted. Jessica had confidence in her work and great strength mentally. Tracy was a high-class woman with a lot of style. Mix them all together (and subtract the multiple personalities, thank you very much) and you had a pretty good version of Inara. I kept her name as Jessica only because I thought that rolled off the tongue better. Besides, Jessica had really fabulous hair.
The Book character ended up as being an 11th hour change. Since it was intimated in Firefly that Book might have been a former Alliance operative, HRG (Noah Bennet) became an immediate obvious choice. However, after some time, I was having second thoughts.
The Book we meet at first is a kind, calm, pleasant, peaceable priest. I feel pretty strongly that HRG would never give up his guns, and the thought of him feeling enough remorse for his past actions to join an abbey and start gardening made my brain itch.
So, for a while I considered Isaac Mendez, thinking his “commando” participation had been in “future reconnoitering” or something of the sort. But it was Book’s unusual physicality that made him so intriguing, the contrast between generally looking and acting like a priest and then knocking someone out like a soldier. So I turned back to the Heroes cast to look for people that could kick ass but seemed reluctant.
Enter Monica Dawson. Compassionate but reluctant, with the ability to bring strong men to their knees, I could honestly believe she might have worked with the Alliance for years before finally dropping out to do penance. And I could see her gardening and spreading the Good Word with no problem. Just by advancing her age, she became a great Book.
The final character I was really having fits casting was the dialogue. Joss Whedon and his team wrote some amazingly unique dialogue for Firefly, incorporating Old West turns of phrase mixed in with the occasional bits of Mandarin. I quickly realized that when I was trying to recreate various scenes that I was steal every single bit of the dialogue verbatim. It was just too good not to use, and it was making it harder for me to find my own voice or the voices of the fusion characters. The way Nathan Petrelli talks is not the way Malcom Reynolds does; as a matter of fact, Mal’s words sound strange in Nathan’s mouth. I had to eventually tell myself to ignore as much of that dialogue as I could, even though some keeps creeping in. Curse you Joss!
The last thing I had to decide was, powers or no powers? Firefly always kept its sci-fi limited to space travel and other technology, with what empathic abilities River had showing that was as far as he wanted to push the envelope. BrightEyed Jill also kept her vision with no powers. Me, I like superpowers. I think they’re neat. And I thought there were ways to incorporate them into the Firefly ‘verse in a matter-of-fact tone that wouldn’t rob the world of its wonder. Adding a few shades of Volume Four of Heroes to the Unification War gave the Indeps (and hence Mal/Nathan) another layer of reasons to hate the Alliance as well.