July 21, 2009

Zed Word Casting Claw: Left 4 Dead (The Movie)

As far as I know, there are no plans in development to turn Left 4 Dead into a feature film; however, you know it's bound to happen one day. Thankfully, unlike other properties recently optioned for film adaptations, a Left 4 Dead movie stands every chance of being quite good if properly cast and written. The game's close-knit group of four distinct survivors would easily translate into an action/horror/escape film. Hell, every mission starts with a mock-movie poster on the loading screen already.

Hypothetically casting Left 4 Dead, I was looking for actors who are experienced but not too well-known. In order to identify with the survivors, they have to have fresh yet familiar faces; this is not a movie for super stars. Also, every actor needs to have experience in comedy. Left 4 Dead is a surprisingly funny game if you take the time to listen to the prerecorded dialogue and conversations between the game characters. So, after thinking about who could successfully play the four survivors, and after getting a little help from my friends, I'm ready to present THE ZED WORD's casting picks for a Left 4 Dead film

LEFT 4 DEAD: Starring.....

MOS DEF as Louis

Hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def (Be Kind Rewind; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is the only one in my mind to play Louis as a white collar young professional forced to adapt in the face of the collapse of civilization. In Left 4 Dead, Louis worked in the IT department as a Junior Systems Analyst until the world went to hell and the zombie horde replaced computer hardware platforms as the worst thing he had to worried about. Louis strikes me as an optimistic, hard-working young professional suddenly dragged out of his life by the apocalypse. He has been able to survive not because of his skill with a weapon (although he's handy with a rifle) but because he has a quick, sharp intellect and is highly adaptable. In his career as a rapper, Mos Def has shown his quick wit and ability to improvise in his amazing ability to freestyle. As an actor, he has also shown his ability to play likable, average guys in his films such as Be Kind Rewind, deliver smart and sharp comedy and satire in films like Spike Lee's Bamboozled, and to throw-down the drama in movies such as Something the Lord Made. As an actor who has defied stereotypes and type-casting, he'd be perfect for a movie that would cross the action/horror/escape genres and add a touch of humour. And I'm not the only one to think so. UGO.com also cast Mos Def as Louis in their L4D casting call.

FAVORITE LOUIS QUOTE: "If I go down, go on without me—actually, no, wait save my ass."


Francis is one loud, cocky, tough, tattooed, biker son-of-bitch who seems a little too at home in the lawless zombie apocalypse of Left 4 Dead. The only man who could play Francis with the required cockiness, toughness, and humour is Adam Baldwin. Baldwin is beloved by fans all over the world for his portrayal of the mercenary Jayne Cobb in Joss Whedon's Firefly, and for good reason. Not only does Baldwin have the intimidating build for playing tough guys but he can also turn a phrase of dialogue in such a way that he comes across as sensitive and likable where just before he was simple-minded and brutish. He can make you laugh out loud. Baldwin has had roles in various movies and TV shows (currently he plays an NSA agent on NBC's Chuck), but I would cast him as Francis simply for his work as Jayne. The characters are just too similar to pass up. Both Jayne and Francis are cocky, tough, physical, quarrelsome (some of the funniest bits of dialogue in the game come from Francis making fun of Bill) and without social graces. Baldwin would just have to substitute Jayne's stupidity for Francis's complete discontent for EVERYTHING.

[ Noticing a deer crossing road sign] "Watch out! There's deer around here."

RIP TORN as Bill

I had a hell of a time casting Bill, probably because he's my favorite of the four characters. Bill is a survivor. Although he fought in Vietnam and was wounded and honorably discharged, Bill never really left the war behind. Now that he's older, a bit more broken, and slightly unhinged in his age, the war has found its way back to him-- but this time the Tanks are zombies and the the Viet Cong are Boomers and Smokers. In trying to find the right actor to capture Bill's special blend of military authority, hard-life experience, underlying insanity, and prominent voice for barking orders and keeping up a humorous rivalry with Francis, I looked at everyone from Kris Kristofferson to Nick Nolte to James Cromwell. It wasn't until zombie fan Apocalypse Dan suggested I look at Rip Torn that I saw the light. In Rip Torn lives the gravelly voice of Bill, lamenting his age ("HORESHIT!"), shouting commands at the other survivors, and waxing far too fondly about his AK-47. Rip Torn has the kind of voice that tears into you. He's also an accomplished serious actor and accomplished comedic actor as evidenced in films like Men in Black, Dodgeball, and The Larry Sanders Show

FAVORITE BILL QUOTE: "Speak up, Francis! Your voice got all muffled from your head being so far up your ass."

I'm going to buck the trend in casting Zoey. If you look at the male fan reaction to Zoey on the web (as shown not only in the popularity of the nude skin released online by a L4D modder but also the disturbing amount of Left 4 Dead porn that comes up by just searching for "Zoey"), everyone seems more enamored by her tits and ass than her personality. The most obvious choice, then, would be to cast Sonja Kinski, who is apparently the actress / model on whom Zoey's character was designed. However, I like Zoey because she's kind of dorky and a pop-culture nut. She's described as a college student who spent her first semester watching horror movies rather than going to class, an education that has served her well now that the zombie apocalypse is at hand. As such, she's always making quips and one liners in the game that reference horror movies and other pop-culture institutions (Star Wars, Simpsons, etc.). Obviously, not only does the actor playing Zoey need to be attractive, she also needs to be incredibly funny. Cobie Smulders, who you can currently see on ABC's How I Met Your Mother, has beauty and funny in spades. She may not be Super-Star hot, but he has been a fashion model and has a very realistic, girl-next-door beauty about her. Also, in her work on How I met Your Mother, she's developed an impeccable comedic timing and steals many of the scenes, just like Zoey does in Left 4 Dead.

FAVORITE ZOEY QUOTE: "Oh, nice, a cabin in the middle of nowhere. I know how this movie ends."

Although I'm not going to cast all the special infected (the zombies would be a combination of extras, stunt people, and pure CGI creations), I would like to finish this entry by suggesting that if a Left 4 Dead movie were ever made, not only should they use my cast for the survivors, but they should also think about using parkour athletes as the Hunters!

Parkour (also known as "free-running") is an athletic discipline and art out of France in which one uses the human body to traverse an urban landscape as quickly and smoothly as possible. Like the agile and deadly Hunters in Left 4 Dead, Parkour athletes climb and leap like urban ninjas through cityscapes and public areas in a beautiful display of athleticism. Parkour athletes like Sebastien Foucan and David Belle have been used in movies and commercial before to perform stunts, but they woudl seem especially suited as Hunters in Left 4 Dead. Just watch the following clips and imagine these guys all wearing hoodies while chasing a group of four survivors through the streets. Sure, you could create a CGI creature to do all this and more, but nothing beats seeing a flesh-and-blood Parkour artists push the boundaries of human ability. They are truly amazing.