Tuesday, 14 February 2012

LAMB Casting: Taxi Driver

For those of you yet to be exposed to “LAMB Casting” over at “THE LAMB” aka The Large Association of Movie Blogs. The rules of the game are deceptively simple were “The LAMB” members are given a film, whose main roles they have to recast, which is were the real challenge begins as what actors could truly embody some of cinema’s most memorable roles? This is somthing especially true for the current film choice “Taxi Driver” a film which many to consider to not only be Director Martin Scorsese’s best film, but also one of De Niro’s most memorable roles perhaps only rivalled by “Raging Bull”, especially with it’s now legendry “You Talkin’ to me” scene being countlessly homaged since the films release.

So as those of you follow the "Twitter" or "Facebook" feeds you will know that I've been asking for your votes for "LAMB Casting" but at the same time not being able to revel my alternative cast until now, for the results have been announced were the winner was Dan Simpson (of PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews), so congratulation to Dan on a well played game and thanks to everyone who voted, especially if you managed to find my own casting list I will now revel, aswell as my reasons for choosing the cast I did.

Being a big fan of both Scorsese and De Niro, aswell as the film itself I was keen to throw my hat into the ring and in doing so I now present my case for my alternative cast of “Taxi Driver”.

Travis Bicke (originally played by Robert DeNiro)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Michael Pitt

While the whole film essentially rests on the casting of this iconic role, my list of potential choices was actually pretty short and while many may have gone for the like of Christian Bale or Josh Brolin, who have previously proven to play crazy well, I wanted to choose someone whom like De Niro portrays Travis as calm on the surface, only revealing his darker distain for the world he see’s around him while he is alone or through his voice over he provides throughout and seeing how both of these actors tend to favour a gruff and gravelly voice over to portray menacing, which really doesn’t work for Travis.

My original first choice was Vincent Cassel, who himself has frequently admitted to basing his own acting style on De Niro’s while also receiving numerous comparisons throughout his career, while even homaging the “You Talkin’ to me” scene so memorably in his breakout role as a young hood in “La Haine”, but again Cassel does threatening well, but I couldn’t see him pulling off the more tender moments such as those were he takes Betsy to the movies or any of his small attempts at connecting with the rest of humanity and it’s the flexability to switch between these two sides of Travis which finally lead to me choosing Michael Pitt for the role.

Still lets look for a moment at the description of Travis given by Paul Schrader’s script which potrays Travis like this

"Age 26, lean, hard, the consummate loner. On the surface he appears
good-looking, even handsome; he has a quiet steady look and a disarming smile which flashes from nowhere, lighting up his whole face. But behind that smile, around his dark eyes, in his gaunt cheeks, one can see the ominous stains caused by a life of private fear, emptiness and loneliness. He seems to have wandered in from a land where it is always cold, a country where the inhabitants seldom speak. The head moves, the expression changes, but the eyes remain ever-fixed, unblinking, piercing empty space."

It’s a description that only further suits the acting style of Pitt, whose style switches effortlessly between a boyish charm and intense seriousness, something especially seen during his more recent role as the Cauffer turned bootlegging gangster Jimmy on the Scorsese produced “Boardwalk Empire”. When I think of him playing the role I can instantly see his clumsy and frequently attempts at picking up Betsy, while his voice is perfectly suited to voice over, as is his intense side needed for when Travis sets about preparing for his war on the human scum he see’s around him, whether it’s working out intensely or just buying guns for his stockpile Pitt seemingly has the acting skill set required to pull of the role.

Iris Steensa (originally played by Jodie Foster)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Abigail Breslin

Possibly the toughest role and certainly the most controversial role to cast in the film, especially seeing how Iris is an underage prostitute, something that would no doubt cause mass flustering of certain censorship groups had the film been released today, yet she is also the source of Travis’s salvation from his self imposed madness. Still at the same time I can’t help but also draw on the fact that it was after seeing Foster in “Taxi Driver” that John Hickley, Jr. became obsessed with her to the point were he even attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and for some strange reason I feel that who ever plays the role, needs to have the power to her performance to inspire the same thing, which is no easy thing to find, especially when 95% of child actors seemingly subscribe to the Disney school of Overacting, or generally being an irritating smart arse without any of the maturity which Foster brought to the role and Breslin despite largely being in indie comedies, has shown occasional flashes of serious acting, which help further the idea of her being able to pull off the role of Iris.

Sport Higgins (Originally played by Harvey Keitel)
Alternative Casting Choice:
John Leguizamo

While not the biggest of roles, Sport was originally supposed to be black only to be changed by Scorsese after he felt the film was already filled with enough racial tension and that keeping his character as a black man would give the film an overly racial subtext. Despite this the only person I want to see playing the role is Leguizamo who tends to specialise in greasy characters like this one, while certainly able to pull of the dangerous edge which this character still processes, with my main inspiration for casting him in the role coming from his performance as Meth dealer Spider Mike in “Spun” a character who could easily be adapted for this role

Betsy Higgins (originally played by Cybill Shepherd)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Zooey Deschanel

Another key character in Travis’s life and responsible in many ways for his further decline into madness thank in no small part to his own personal quirks, especially after for some random reason deciding that what every girl wants to do on a first date is to be taken to a porn theatre and not to a good porn film either but some random Swedish sex education film, which not only furthers the idea of how apart from society Travis has become and really making the audience realise how little they understand the inner workings of Travis’s mindset.

Deschanel for some reason seems to split audiences opinion with those like myself who love her indie quirkiness, while the rest seem to have the same sort of distain for her that I personally reserve for the likes of Noel Clarke and Keira Knightley, but she is one of the few actresses along with Emma Stone that I could ever see playing the role, especially as it requires for the character to view even the most random aspects of her date with seemingly little shock, outside of occasionally questioning Travis’s choices, something which limited my actress choices further as I could see plenty pulling off the scenes with Betsy talking with Tom or working in the campaign office, but it’s the scenes of her date with Travis which proved the breaking point for most potential choices as I could see them more likely spraying him with mace or just freaking out at the prospect that their date would imply that a porn film is the perfect choice for a first date. Deschanel in “500 days of Summer” showed her playing a similar character to Betsy, especially with the calm complexion she brought to even the most random of activities be that playing house at IKEA or raiding the adult video section, while let’s not forget the psychological crippling effect she had on Tom, which could be easily compared to Betsy’s rejection of Travis which in many ways proves the breaking point which sets Travis on his path as the self imposed saviour of society. Still it’s because of the similarities between Betsy’s effect and the performance by Deschanel in “500 days of Summer” which stopped me casting Joseph Gordan Lewit as Travis, as didn’t want it just to be a rerun of “500 days of Summer” with added psychosis so alas the sacrifice had to be made.

Tom (originally played by Albert Brooks)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Jason Schwartzman

Certainly not the biggest role in the film, perhaps only beaten by the role of Sport here Tom’s dissection of Mafia trademarks would make his character slightly more memorable than most of the supporting cast, while also bringing out Travis’s jealous as well as fuelling his more dangerous side, by being his rival for the affections of Betsy, even though she seemingly hold no feelings for either man.
Tom is an office geek trying to come across more intellectual than he is and Schwartzman tends to play these characters well, let alone the fact that with “The Stool Pigeon” speech he is the sole actor I could see pulling it off convincingly, especially as he bring the right amount of fake intellectualism to his roles that the role requires, for although he might portray himself as a deep thinker, Tom frequently misses the point or fudges his facts while trying to provide an explanation for his opinions.

Wizard (originally played by Peter Boyle)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Jeffrey Tambor

Wizard is almost like the adopted father figure of the Taxi Driver’s of “The King Kong Cab Company”, having been driving cabs longer than any of the other drivers and having long grown wise to how things work on the New York streets, while at the same time peddling his own brand of street philosophy. In many ways is the same to Travis aswell and from whom Travis tries to make sense of the madness he see’s around him, as he remains the sole person to which he confesses his concern for this change in outlook and while Wizard might mistake these feelings as Travis adapting to the job, his numbness to the world around him, does in same way indentify that perhaps not everything is in Travis’s head.

Wizard needs to be played by an older actor and although Ed Harris was a strong contender for the role and while I love Peter Boyle who is underused these days in the god awful “Everybody loves Raymond” and seeing how the rules require me to sadly recast him, Jeffery Tambor was the best possible replacement, edging over Harris only because of how he would read the lines, which would be no doubt with the same casual intensity that Boyle does, were what he is saying is important to listen to, but he still makes it sound like casual conversation and it’s this style of projection that Tambor also excels at as best seen in the severely underrated “Arrested Development”.

So there you have it, my alternate cast for "Taxi Driver". But who would you cast??
So why not put together your own alternative cast and post it in the comments section

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