Casting Call: Who Should Play Dave Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?
October 9, 2012
Casey Affleck, Michael Cera/Photos © S. Bukley, Featureflash/Shutterstock
Welcome to Word & Fim’s Casting Call, where we exercise our creative muscles by focusing our attention on extraordinary characters from exceptional books – either fiction or nonfiction – and make the case for how we’d cast those roles if given the chance. Note that, here at Word & Film, we’re not casting directors, nor are we producers, agents, or anyone else who has any say in how a film will be cast; we’re simply ardent fans of books and movies who can’t help ourselves from such musings.
If there were such a thing as a literary forensic scientist – someone who retroactively investigates the specific elements that make a book a success or failure – Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius would make for a tough and high-profile case. The moment Eggers made his literary debut in 2000, with his meta-memoir about taking care of his seven-year-old brother, Toph, after losing both his parents to cancer, he was instantly anointed a literary rock star whose outlandish talent and originality were the source of much speculation and fascination. Who was this scruffy thirty-year-old with a near supernatural ability to infuse this catalogue of struggle and sadness with such wild exuberance? How did he turn the crappy hand he had been dealt into an opportunity for unhinged adventure and tenderness without pity? How did he write sentences like these: “We came to California and we wanted everything, would take what was ours, anything within reach. And I decided that little Toph and I, he with his backward hat and long hair, living together in our little house in Berkeley, would be world-destroyers. We inherited each other and, we felt, a responsibility to reinvent everything, to scoff and re-create and drive fast while singing loudly and pounding the windows.”
Now, with the benefit of having read Eggers’ subsequent books, it’s become a little easier to answer those questions and maybe even pinpoint the recipe to his secret sauce. At once fierce, funny, and deeply humane, all of Eggers’ work celebrates scrappy survivors who prevail over tremendous hardships with good humor and dignity.
To find an actor who embodies all these qualities is no easy task. In fact, the role would require no less than a staggering genius capable of pulling off feats of heartbreaking tenderness, defiant optimism, and reckless good fun. If age were not an issue, both Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp would top our list of first-class mischief-makers harboring the untold depths of humanity the role requires. But Eggers was a mere twenty-one years old when he took over as Toph’s primary caregiver and partner-in-crime. And it’s impossible to overstate how crucial it is for any actor playing Eggers to serve as a constant reminder that he was barely legal and in way over his head acting as his brother’s keeper. The age factor also rules out such versatile potential Eggers avatars as Joseph Gordon Levitt (31), Casey Affleck (37), Jason Schwartzman (32), John Krasinski (32).
The pool of actors with the chops and charisma to play a twenty-one-year-old Dave Eggers is so small, it’s more like a puddle. But after careful consideration, we’ve narrowed the list of viable contenders down to three finalists. First, there’s the obvious choice: Michael Cera, whose infectious likeability and impeccable comic timing are beyond dispute, thanks to his iconic turns in “Juno” and “Arrested Development.” And though he could certainly bring ample amounts of dignity and grace to our hypothetical adaptation of AHWoSG, he doesn’t quite capture Eggers’ outsize appetite for reckless abandon. Our second runner-up for the role is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, best known for playing the dorky teenager harboring delusions of superheroic grandeur in “Kick-Ass.” The only British actor to make the cut, the twenty-two-year-old Johnson clearly has a facility for playing trouble-making young Americans and volleying effortlessly between comedy (“Shanghai Knights”), action (“Savages”) and drama (“Anna Karenina”).
There is no real reason Cera or Taylor-Johnson shouldn’t win the derby to play Eggers. They were only eliminated from the running because there’s a slightly more perfect option: Shia LaBeouf. At twenty-six, he practically qualifies for the group’s emeritus member. But we didn’t rule him out because all that time spent working on “Transformers” movies effectively arrested his emotional development. (How could it not?) But seriously, there is ample evidence LaBeouf – or, “The Beef,” as his fans call him – is an explosive talent waiting to detonate in the right role. We’re willing to overlook the slick blockbusters lining his filmography in favor of his nuanced work in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and the little-seen indie, “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” But it’s his mouthy and mischievous off-screen persona that landed him at the top of our hypothetical call sheet. On screen, Labeouf exudes such good-guy warmth, Steven Spielberg once compared him to a “young Tom Hanks.” However, he made that comment before he publicly bashed the director for “dropping the ball on a legacy” with “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.”
LaBeouf’s right, of course. And he may be the only working actor today foolish or fearless enough to speak that kind of unvarnished truth to power. That’s why we like him. And that’s why he’s our number one pick to play Eggers. He also gets bonus points for outrageous acting talent and his Eggers-esque Brillo pad hairstyle and patchy goatee.
Now that we’ve rendered our verdict, we invite you to call out your picks for Hollywood’s most Eggers-worthy actors.
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