Every movie lover has played the game “Who would you cast …?” by taking iconic movies and imagining who might play those roles in an alternate-universe version.
Last year, Jason Reitman transformed this casual cinephile talk into a series of live, one-night-only stage readings of classic scripts such as The Breakfast Club, Reservoir Dogs, and The Princess Bride. (Seth Rogen took over for Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, for example, while Steve Carell played the Jack Lemmon part in The Apartment.)
On Thursday, the Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking filmmaker will take his cinematic experiment to the Toronto International Film Festival, hosting a live-read of a movie that debuted there in 1999 and went on to win five Oscars, including best picture and best original screenplay for Alan Ball — American Beauty.
So who would you cast …? Reitman saved his choices for the Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening roles exclusively for EW.
Adam Driver, who co-stars as Lena Dunham’s oddly distant (then oddly compassionate) boyfriend on HBO’s Girls will take on the role of Ricky Fitts, the plastic bag-filming neighbor originated by Wes Bentley, while Mae Whitman (Parenthood, In Treatment, and Arrested Development) will play the Thora Birch role of Jane Burnham, the introverted daughter of two parents who are imploding.
Woody Harrelson will recreate Col. Frank Fitts, the terse ex-Marine who disapproves (in the extreme) of his neighbor Lester Burnham and the relationship between his son and Lester’s daughter. Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis) will play the Lolita-esque cheerleader Angela Hayes, who becomes Burnham’s rose-petal-covered temptation, while Nick Kroll (FX’s The League) will play the Peter Gallagher part of Buddy Kane, the real estate rival who is having an affair with Lester’s wife.
Canadian radio and TV host George Stroumboulopoulos will play Jim Olmeyer, the friendly neighbor (originated by Scott Bakula) whose gay relationship causes the Colonel to seethe.
That brings us to the big reveals: Lester and Carolyn Burnham, which earned Spacey and Oscar and Bening a lead actress nomination.
“When I think of those two roles, I think of Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks because they know how to balance domestic drama while making it scary and hilarious at the same time,” Reitman says.
“There’s an intensity and hilarity to both of them,” Reitman adds. “When I think of Christina on Mad Men and Bryan on Breaking Bad, that is the balance of both shows: they deal with extreme drama that can be funny at any moment, and that’s really at the heart of American Beauty.”
In some ways, Breaking Bad‘s Walter White is an extreme variation on Lester Burnham, who also decides to push back against life (though he chooses a somewhat less-savage route. Somewhat.)
“There is a kind of mid-life crisis to that character that echoes Spacey in the most extreme way,” Reitman says. “Bryan Cranston is just so perfectly built for that role.”
Hendricks brings an allure and an iciness to the role of Carolyn Burnham, whose passionless relationship with Lester has led her to act out in her own way. She is also a veteran of another of Reitman’s live-reads, playing the Julianne Moore role of Maude in his staging of The Big Lebowski.
American Beauty was perfect for the festival not only because it premiered there 13 years ago, but because “it began an era of films going to Toronto on their road through awards season and I think helped changed what the Toronto Film Festival meant.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t record the readings for sharing outside of the theater. Only those in the theater this Thursday will get to see how the experiment plays out.
For more film news
Gallery of Jason Reitman’s previous live-reads: From ‘Lebowski’ to ‘Breakfast Club’
Inside Jason Reitman’s all-black (almost) ‘Reservoir Dogs’ performance
Behind the scenes: ‘The Princess Bride’ Comes Alive!