Few silver screen heroes have developed the sort of iconography enjoyed by Tarzan. Although the King of the Jungle has remained somewhat absent from Hollywood in recent years, The Legend of Tarzan seeks to bring the character into the modern age. Although True Blood actor Alexander Skarsgard has been shouldered with the task of carrying on the character's legacy, the higher ups at Warner Bros. almost enlisted a well-known and beloved Olympic athlete to headline the film.
During her recent interview with Vanity Fair, Margot Robbie revealed that the titular role in The Legend of Tarzan almost went to legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps:
For a moment Jerry believed he'd found Tarzan in Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. It was all Jerry talked about. 'It's going to be like Johnny Weissmuller,' Jerry told me. 'All the reporters are going to say, "Weintraub found the new Johnny Weissmuller!"' At that point, Jerry had never seen Phelps do anything but get in and out of a pool. Then, as if arranged, the swimmer hosted Saturday Night Live. As this went on past Jerry's bedtime, he asked his assistant to record it. Two minutes in, Jerry turned to his assistant and shouted, 'This isn't Tarzan! This isn't Johnny Weissmuller! He's a goon! Why didn't anyone tell me he's a goon? Turn it off. Goddammit, turn it off.'
On the surface it seems like a solid choice for producer Jerry Weintraub; Michael Phelps is a well-known public figure possessing abs that don't quit. Casting him in the role of Tarzan would honor the tradition of the character because it echoes the original casting of Johnny Weissmuller -- another swimmer turned actor. In a cinematic era often defined by nostalgia, that would mean something to longtime fans.
However, once Jerry Weintraub finally got around to seeing Michael Phelps' attempts at acting, he realized something we all have known for quite some time: Phelps is not a great actor. In fact, he isn't even a good actor. The closest he has ever come to headlining anything outside of a sporting event came when he hosted Saturday Night Live, and the general consensus seems to be that (like many athletes) Michael Phelps lacked much of the charisma to truly shine as a bona fide lead.
At the end of the day, it seems like Warner Bros. made the right call by casting Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend of Tarzan. Although he's primarily depicted as a stoic hero, the role of Tarzan still requires someone who can genuinely act and properly emote while on camera, and it seems unlikely that Michael Phelps would have found himself up to the task. At least Phelps is in incredible shape. Just looking at Skarsgard's abs suggests Phelps could have kept up in that regard.
Did Warner Bros. make the right choice by opting for Alexander Skarsgard, or should they have opted to give Michael Phelps a shot? We will keep you updated with any and all The Legend of Tarzan news as it becomes available to us. The iconic silver screen hero's latest adventure is currently in theaters.