Sony's rebooted 'Spider-Man': Who needs a star when you have Spider-Man
The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit has something of a scoop about the casting for Sony's new, rebooted "Spider-Man," saying that the studio and director Marc Webb have narrowed their search for the new Peter Parker to basically five possible candidates. But the real news is that unless you're an industry insider or a die-hard moviegoer, you probably haven't heard of most of the actors.
It should hardly be a surprise to discover that the lead role for one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood will probably go to a total unknown. In today's film business, if you have a gigantic tent-pole film, it's the film that's the star, not the actor, which is one of the many reasons why talent agents look so glum these days. Outside of seven or eight instantly bankable, gold-plated movie openers (starting with Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr. and Adam Sandler, and going downhill fast from there), the star system is in steep decline.
If you're going to make a summer tent-pole like "Spider-Man," you're spending the majority of your money on 1,500 special-effects shots, not the guy on screen who does the web-slinging. It's why, when J.J. Abrams rebooted "Star Trek," he went with Chris Pine in the lead, who to this day is probably not as well known as Abrams himself. In fact, at least for franchise films, the casting process seems to have far more in common with assembling a cast for a TV show. If you have a strong concept, you don't need a big star, simply an actor who'll best fit the concept. If they're a really great fit, then they become a star.
It's already about to happen with CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," the hit comedy about a bunch of hilariously nerdy Cal Tech physicists. CBS cast total unknowns in the lead roles, but now that the show's a rating's winner, Jim Parsons, the gangly actor who plays the insufferably brilliant Sheldon Cooper, is already busy getting auditions for every hot new Hollywood comedy, because filmmakers can see that he's a budding Steve Carell in the making.
Maybe the same thing will happen on the big screen for the new star of "Spider-Man." According to the blog post from the Reporter, the only vaguely recognizable actor being considered is Jamie Bell, the young British actor who made a splash years ago in "Billy Elliot" but hasn't had any similarly broad exposure since. The other candidates include Alden Ehrenreich (who's best known -- and I'm not making this up -- for being spotted by Steven Spielberg in a bat mitzvah comedy video); Frank Dillane, who had a small part in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"; Andrew Garfield, who's worked in British TV; and Josh Hutcherson, who was in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "Zathura."
Like I said, they're not household names. But that's the whole point. When you're revving up a new version of a storied franchise like "Spider-Man," the lesser known the actor is, the better. You want someone who won't be asking for any back-end money or complaining about having to agree to star in at least two sequels. Getting an acting gig in a Hollywood franchise is almost like signing on to a Disney TV series. There isn't a lot of fairy dust involved anymore. You're just another cog in the machine.
Photo: Jamie Bell, right, with Devon Alan in the 2004 dramatic thriller "Undertow." Credit: Dale Robinette / United Artists