THE FACE OF A HEROOne obvious change from the novels is the fact that Roland has always been depicted as a white man with blue eyes, although to Elba that change is no deeper than a layer of skin.
As we sit outside his trailer, watching as the shape of Table Mountain vanishes and reappears in the mist overhead, we talk of Stephen King’s reaction to his casting, which was: “I love it. I think he’s a terrific actor, one of the best working in the business now.”
I ask him if he means a white guy, and Elba shrugs. It’s more than that. “A white guy in a sense, but, also just that you could make a version of this film that appealed to a slightly more action-hero type character and I don’t do those films. I haven’t done many actions films,” he says. “I like to bring a little depth and bring a real character. And what’s been fun is, Nik’s really up for that. So we do takes that are a little bit more commercial, if you like, and we do takes that are f—ing deep, like we’re making an independent film. It’s an iconic character. I want to get it right.”
With Hollywood still struggling with diversity and inclusion, exemplified by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy this year, his casting in the role does seem to be freighted with extra significance. I asked Elba if he considers the race-swapping of the character to be a big deal.
But Elba isn't a good actor. He's just a black actor with a British accent forced down consumers throats until they've been conditioned his not just a good actor, but a Nordic deity.“It’s better just to treat it like no big deal,” Elba answers. “There should be no difference. The character that was written in Stephen’s imagination, it could be any color. It just happens to be me and, you know? In the artwork, it just so happens to be a white guy, but I don’t think that makes any difference. … I think what’s great about it, if I want to say anything about it, is that it is a sign of the times in terms of a colorless society. People go, ‘A good actor is a good actor,’ you know?”
Of course, the writer and producer of The Dark Tower movie had an entirely different take on the racial recasting. [THE DARK TOWER: AKIVA GOLDSMAN CALLS IDRIS ELBA 'THE GREATEST POSSIBLE IDEA FOR CASTING', IGN.com, 1-8-2016]:
News broke in December that Idris Elba seemed to be the frontrunner for the role of Roland Deschain in the long-anticipated adaptation of Steven King's The Dark Tower. The potential casting would change the race of the gunslinger, a realization that received mixed reactions around the Internet.
Akiva Goldsman, who is writing and producing the project, spoke to IGN at the 2016 winter Television Critics Association press tour while promoting his new WGN America series Underground, which is an escape thriller centered around the Underground Railroad. Talk shifted to the reaction to Elba's potential casting, and Goldsman shared his thoughts on the situation.
"I think Idris Elba is the greatest possible idea for casting for Roland, and I'm unbelievably proud of it as a collaborator on this enterprise and because I think that he's a great actor and I couldn't be more thrilled that he is likely to play a part," Goldsman said. "I understand that people who are thoughtful about the storytelling and the racial politics of the storytelling might want to understand how that informs that storytelling, and I respect that and I hear that, and those things are not things we didn't think about or don't think about. The racist a--holes should go f--k themselves."We live in a world where race drives every decision in Hollywood casting, with Thomas Jane's character sabotaged by being told he was "too white" to star in a film with Sylvester Stallone by Joel Silver. We know are told, "The racist a--holes should go f--k themselves," if they find the casting of a black actor in an obviously white role.
The moral of the story: the gunslinger is white and The Dark Tower film with a black gunslinger is going to be a huge box office disappointment.