Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
A lot of casting and financing rumors about Akira have been bubbling up in the big online entertainment rags, so we’ve compiled them in this article. Warner Bros. seems to be stubbornly moving forward with the project even though A-listers and financiers are running away.
Casting Squabbles between the Director and the Brass
According to Vulture, Warner Bros. new President, Jeff Robinov, has been micromanaging the casting and even put out a personal offer to Brad Pitt for the lead role of Kaneda (based on the manga’s protagonist, Shōtarō Kaneda.) The offer to Pitt was made in part because the studio feels it needs a “big name” to sell the film. The director, Albert Hughes, was not happy with the offer to Pitt and negotiated with Robinov to be allowed to put out an offer to Mila Kunis for the supporting role of Kei.
Alas–well, alas for WB–both Pitt and Kunis turned down Akira. And they’re not the only ones who turned down Akira: allegedly, James Franco, Ryan Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender also all passed on the project. (As reported by the trades, Warner Bros. and the production’s top choices for characters like Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima were all white actors. Meanwhile, non-white actors, including Asian American actors, are still waiting for the chance to be considered.)
Big Budget Bets
Part of the reason why Warner Bros. is so insistent on seeking a big-name star (except for offering the role to relative unknowns Garret Hedlund and Michael Fassbender…) is because Akira is rumored to be budgeted for $230 million. (In comparison, the film Inception cost $180 million.)
Although it is unclear if this budget is for the first movie or both movies–the project is supposed to be a two-parter–Legendary Pictures, initially a co-financier, has pulled out of the project. Apparently, Legendary Pictures (which usually works with WB to finance films like the aforementioned Inception) is no longer interested putting money on such a risky investment.
Enter a new contender: Keanu Reeves. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the multiethnic actor (1/8 Native Hawaiian and 1/8 Chinese from his father‘s side) has people talking to the studio about playing Kaneda. Reeves is currently filming 47 Ronin with a bevy of stars from Japan (Sadly, the American-produced film from Universal is not going to be an opportunity-maker for Asian American actors, either.)
We can sort of see why Warner Bros. would want to go with one of their previously established stars–Reeves is arguably Warner Bros. biggest actor of Asian descent (granted, only 2% of WB films from 2000 to 2009 had an Asian lead, and they were mostly Asian nationals like Jet Li and Rain.)
At the same time, it’s unsatisfactory to see Reeves (who has played white characters, multiethnic characters, and even Siddhartha) default to Hollywood’s only go-to actor when they need to find someone to portray an Asian lead character. Hollywood isn’t exactly hard at work to discover this generation’s next hot “Keanu.”
For Asian American actors who aren’t Keanu Reeves, opportunities to play lead characters continue to be few and far between. Will Warner Bros. exceed expectations and cast an Asian American actor alongside Reeves to play Tetsuo? Can a $230 million Akira project that barely resembles the source material make enough to make a profit?