How to Break a Bookworm’s Heart

By Sara Cepollina

Michael Fass­ben­der, Marisa Tomei, and Alexan­dra Dad­dario: What do these three actors have in common?

You may not know all of them, but what you need to know is that they’ve all played a char­ac­ter from a book or a com­ic, and that they don’t look like their book-alikes at all! For some peo­ple, this may not be rel­e­vant, but for book fans, who’ve lived side-by side with their fic­tion­al char­ac­ters, it’s high­ly impor­tant that an actor who some­what resem­bles the pro­tag­o­nist in the book plays the role. I’m an avid read­er, and when­ev­er the rights to one of my favourite books are bought, I begin to think about the per­fect actor who would best fit the role.

“Jane” is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

If you’re a fan of the clas­sics, you may know that Michael Fass­ben­der played noto­ri­ous Mr. Rochester in Cary Fuku­na­ga 2011 adap­ta­tion of Char­lotte Brontë’s famous 1847 nov­el, Jane Eyre. And if you know what he looks like, I’m sure you under­stand why he’s not – and nev­er will be – Mr. Rochester:

I knew my trav­el­er, with his broad and jet­ty eye­brows, his square fore­head, made squar­er by the hor­i­zon­tal sweep of his black hair. I rec­og­nized his deci­sive nose, more remark­able for char­ac­ter than beau­ty, his full nos­trils, denot­ing, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw – yes, all three were very grim, and no mis­take… I sup­pose it was a good fig­ure in the ath­let­ic sense of the term, broad-chest­ed and thin-flanked, though nei­ther tall nor graceful.

This exam­ple is case in point in which an actor is cho­sen because of his fame and appear­ance over his resem­blance to the char­ac­ter. Let’s be hon­est, I’m not sor­ry to see Fass­ben­der on the big screen, but what both­ers me is that they pre­ferred a good-look­ing actor over a cor­rect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Edward Fair­fax Rochester.

In con­trast, let’s look at Marisa Tomei. In case you’re won­der­ing who she is, I’m here to tell you that you might have seen her in the last tril­o­gy of Spi­der-Man (2017–2021). Yes, the one with Tom Hol­land and Zen­daya where she plays Aunt May. You don’t need to read the com­ic to know that she’s usu­al­ly por­trayed as an old­er woman (just like in the oth­er cin­e­mato­graph­ic ver­sions of Spi­der-Man with Tobey McGuire). Unlike in the Rochester case, Marisa Tomei was cho­sen because the movie direc­tor want­ed to mod­ern­ize the plot by employ­ing younger and more inclu­sive characters.

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Zen­daya, who’s also in this movie, plays Peter Parker’s love inter­est MJ. In fact, in the comics, Mary Jane por­trays a white woman with red hair, unlike Zendaya’s MJ. Choos­ing an actor who doesn’t resem­ble his char­ac­ter isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing; indeed, it’s often an excel­lent way of rep­re­sent­ing minorities.

Last but not least, let’s look Alexan­dra Dad­dario. You may have seen her in a cou­ple of movies like Bay­watch (2017) or When We First Met (2018), but espe­cial­ly in the only two movies of Per­cy Jack­son & the Olympians (2010–2013) where she plays Anna­beth Chase. I might seem repet­i­tive, but I’m also a big fan of this book saga, and when I saw the cast, I was very angry.

“Per­cy-Jack­son-Sea-of-Mon­sters-Poster1” by bangdoll@flickr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Anna­beth Chase, the daugh­ter of Athena, is a 12-year-old girl with blond, curly hair and grey eyes. Alexan­dra not only has brown hair and blue eyes, but she was 24 when she played the char­ac­ter. You may think that this case is sim­i­lar to the Fass­ben­der one, but it’s not, and I’m going to tell you why: in Jane Eyre, they tried to change the appear­ance of the actor to make him sim­i­lar to the char­ac­ter. With Alexan­dra Dad­dario, they didn’t even make the effort to dye her hair blond in the first movie. In fact, in the sec­ond film, due to numer­ous crit­i­cisms from fans and the author of the books, Alexan­dra Dad­dario had to wear a blonde wig. Of course, this didn’t change the fact that she was too old to play that role. Because of this and oth­er numer­ous errors in the adap­ta­tion, no oth­er films in the Per­cy Jack­son saga have been produced.

Being able to adapt books to movies is a dif­fi­cult task, not only from a cin­e­mat­ic point-of view, but also in terms of lend­ing cred­i­bil­i­ty to the char­ac­ters – their looks, their age, their charis­ma – in the film. Only then will fans of lit­er­a­ture glad­ly see their heroes come to life on the big screen. So, cast­ing direc­tors, lis­ten to the fan­dom a lit­tle more and be less super­fi­cial. In some case, like in Spi­der-Man, cast­ing against the grain brings a new dimen­sion to the film; in most cas­es, how­ev­er, it is sim­ply an annoy­ance to every true book lover.

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Sara Cepol­li­na is a stu­dent at Genoa Uni­ver­si­ty where she stud­ies for­eign lan­guages. She doesn’t know what to do with her future yet, but she’s 100% sure of which book she’s going to read next or which Mar­vel char­ac­ter is the best.