One of the most prized properties stuck in development limbo over the years has been Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower. The seven book series began when King was still a college kid, only to be completed in 2004. However, there have been some promising steps over the past couple of years, primarily with Ron Howard snatching up the property and vowing to get it on the screen. Recently, Aaron Paul let slip that he’s had meetings about playing the role of Eddie Dean. So that got us thinking, who would be the perfect actor to take on the iconic central role of Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger himself?
10. Thomas Jane
One of the best things Tom Jane has going for him when it comes to science fiction, comic book, and fantasy films is a pretty substantial amount of nerd credibility. He hasn’t really made any good movies in those genres, of course, but he’s a proud fanboy who just happens to have leading man looks. Of course while he’s a good actor, we’re not sure he’s got quite the gravitas to pull off the character of Roland. Still, he’d be an interesting, and very much acceptable choice.
It helps that he’s got experience in the world of Stephen King, too. He’s starred in two King adaptations, with the god awful Dreamcatcher being the first, and the very much underappreciated The Mist being the second. While Dreamcatcher was a disaster, he was pretty outstanding in The Mist, which turned out to be one of the best King adaptations ever put on screen. As far as his straight up horror stuff goes, it might be the best, since obviously Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption don’t fall into that genre. He’s clearly a fan of King’s work, and would no doubt jump at the chance to play Roland for seven or more films.
9. Russell Crowe
Along with another guy we’ll get to a little later on the list, Russell Crowe is someone who has actually been rumored to be attached, or at least in talks, to play Roland in the past. Nothing has ever come of it, but between his strong working relationship with Ron Howard (they did A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man together) and the actor’s ability to play a quiet, strong, slightly menacing badass, he seems like a pretty solid choice for Roland.
To a degree, Roland has some similarities with Maximus in that he has a very specific goal, he’s extremely driven toward reaching it, and he isn’t going to let anything stand in his way. Combine that kind of performance with the gunslinger role he played in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and it’s easy to see him holstering up and setting out in search of the Dark Tower. Heck, he played an actual gunslinger in The Quick and the Dead. He’s an actor who, when he comes face to face with the Crimson King, you could legitimately see emerging victorious. If we had to place bets right now, Crowe would probably be the favorite to wind up in the role. But we still think there are better choices.
8. Clint Eastwood
If these films were being made 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, the clear choice to play Roland Deschain would be Clint Eastwood. Hell, the character is inspired primarily on Clint’s “Man with No Name” character from his trilogy with Sergio Leone. It’s kind of like how Marvel changed Nick Fury to a guy inspired by Sam Jackson – how could they then not cast Sam Jackson to play him? Sadly, the most perfect actor to ever play Roland is probably just too old at this point.
Clint is still a capable actor, to be sure, and his growling voice and ice cold glare, as exhibited in Gran Torino, could certainly still work for the role of the Gunslinger. After all, Roland’s age is never really mentioned, and based on the way the series ends, it is very much up for debate exactly how old he is. It would be a pretty substantial gamble to go with Clint at this point, especially since, and we hate to say it, a seven part series is a pretty tall order for a guy as old as Clint. There’s no guarantee he’d make it all the way through all seven (or more) films, as morbid as it is to say.
7. Hugh Jackman
A couple of the qualities that could keep Hugh Jackman from being a truly great Roland are the fact that he’s known as one of the most affable people working in Hollywood, and he’s a little too handsome to play Roland. Roland is worn down, weary, and just generally has been run ragged by life, but while Jackman is a little too pretty at first glimpse he can certainly play that sort of role. One has to look no further than his Oscar nominated performance in Les Miserables.
Stop laughing! As Jean Valjean, Jackman showed more range than he’s been able to over the years in which he’s become primarily known to audiences as Wolverine. He showed he can play a man who has been worn down by the rigors of life and is trying to do the right thing, which is a big part of Roland Deschain. Roland has a certain nobility and charm, and Jackman could absolutely bring that to the table if he found himself playing the role. Of course he also recently said he may be done with one big franchise after the next X-Men movie, so would he really want to dive right into another, more ambitious project?
6. Daniel Craig
One of the things that Daniel Craig has going for him when it comes to playing Roland Deschain is, in addition to being able to look haggard and beaten down by the world, he’s got eyes that are spot on for the Gunslinger. Like Roland, Craig’s pale eyes tell a deeper story than dialogue alone could convey. Plus, he’s just physically similar to Roland as long as he doesn’t get too bulked up like he is for the Bond films.
Of course the Bond films may wind up being a big part of the reason as to why he would turn down the role. He’s already been a part of one big franchise and may not want to jump into another right off the bat. Additionally, he’s tried out the science fiction meets fantasy meets western movie before and it hasn’t worked out too well for him. Cowboys & Aliens was such a disaster that it may have left him with an epic distaste for the genre in general, and may put him off the idea of getting into even weirder territory with King’s series of novels.
5. Josh Brolin
Who would have ever thought that back when The Goonies came out, we’d be hoping that a guy like Josh Brolin would be someone we’d love to see carry an entire big budget, sweeping, huge scale franchise like The Dark Tower? Like Craig however, it would be easy to understand if Brolin has soured on different kinds of westerns, since his film Jonah Hex was as big a bomb as Cowboys & Aliens. Still, he’s become one heck of an actor over the years, and he has the kind of stoic ferocity that’s needed for Roland Deschain.
One of the good things about Brolin is that he’s clearly not afraid of jumping at iconic characters or franchise films, since he was very much in consideration for the role of Batman when it went to Ben Affleck instead. Having an actor who is as well respected as Brolin, who did outstanding work in movies like No Country for Old Men and Milk, be willing to strap the successes or failures of one of the most heavily anticipated book adaptations in a long, long time is certainly something worth taking into account, if in fact he ever sat down, read the part, and decided to go for it.
4. Kurt Russell
One of the more out there choices on this list, Kurt Russell certainly doesn’t lack for badass or nerd credentials, and if you’re looking for a more aged version of Roland you would be hard-pressed to find a better choice. Russell still has his classic, All-American good looks but is showing his years these days, which helps with the character of Roland Deschain. On top of simply looking the part, think about a character like Snake Plissken and you’ll know at once that Russell could be one hell of a Gunslinger. Plus, he proved with Tombstone he fits right into the Western genre when given the chance.
One of the benefits for pursuing Kurt Russell for the role of Roland is also the simple fact that he’s been kind of hanging around the fringe of Hollywood for so long at this point that he may be ready to dive back into a big project, particularly since, like himself, director Ron Howard is a former child star who came up in the same era. Remember, Russell was a Disney kid who was starting to gain fame right around the same time as Howard, so it could be easy to see the duo forming a close on-set bond with Opie directing Russell as Roland. Either way, if Russell would be willing to get on board you have to think the casting agents would at least have to consider the tremendous potential of slapping Roland’s cowboy hat on ol’ Jack Burton and letting him kick ass all the way to the Dark Tower.
3. Javier Bardem
The one guy who has actually been attached to play the role of Roland Deschain, Javier Bardem has to be one of the top contenders on this list. He’s probably a little more non-traditional for the role than many would think of for a badass American cowboy, specifically because he’s not American and sometimes has a little trouble hiding his accent, but his acting prowess is certainly bordering on legendary at this stage of his career.
The man has multiple Oscar nominations to his name, and no one could question his ability to play a hard, violent man with a singular objective after watching him in No Country for Old Men. And, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what Roland is, even if the motivations behind the two characters are vastly different. Bardem has already signed on and then left the project, however, so as much as we think he would be a very solid Roland it’s just not going to happen at this point. Maybe they could snag his American doppelganger, Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
2. Daniel Day-Lewis
Now this is just a kind of wishful thinking pick, because it’s no secret that Daniel Day-Lewis makes very few movies, and is extremely selective about what and when he films. It’s almost impossible to imagine he would ever get anywhere near a sequel, let alone an entire, epic series. So it’s not going to happen. We simply have to face facts about that. And even if he did sign on, he’d probably get so method that he’d start talking in the somewhat annoying Dark Tower language that King created for the next decade, and then everyone would just hate the dude. But still…
There may not be a better actor in the world today than Daniel Day-Lewis. He can play any sort of role, and he certainly has the gravitas and nobility to portray Roland Deschain, and has proven himself adept at playing badass action characters with movies like Last of the Mohicans. It’s easy to imagine him as the weary old cowboy, diligent in his pursuit of the man who fled across the desert, leading him ever onward toward the Dark Tower. Day-Lewis would lend instant credibility to the franchise, and he would absolutely kill it in the role. Which makes it a shame he would never go anywhere near it. That’s okay, though, because the most perfect Roland Deschain is…
1. Viggo Mortensen
Be honest. If you started reading The Dark Tower series in the early 2000’s, you probably envisioned Viggo Mortensen as Roland from the get go. To a lot of us, there simply is no other option. Viggo Mortensen simply is Roland Deschain. Around the time King was finishing up the series, Mortensen was starring in the most epic fantasy trilogy of all-time while also starring as a beleaguered cowboy in the movie Hidalgo. Once you take Aragorn and merge him with the look Viggo was sporting in Hidalgo, it’s hard to shake the image of him as Roland from your mind.
Of course one of the problems with Mortensen is that he may shy away from yet another epic fantasy series, particularly one that will in all likelihood be more time consuming and grueling than what he experienced making The Lord of the Rings. Still, it’s hard to deny he’d be a phenomenal choice. He’s continued to play characters similar to Roland over the years, most notably in the movie The Road. His character, and the relationship he shares with the boy in that film, fits perfectly with what King did with Roland and the young character of Jake in the Dark Tower series. At the end of the day, if we had the power to cast anyone in the role of Roland, it would be Viggo Mortensen all day, every day.