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If you've seen Ready Player One, you know that the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, had a Willy Wonka-esque quality to him. Just like the chocolate factory proprietor, James Halliday offered one lucky fan the opportunity to have the keys to the kingdom and control over a fantastical world full of joy and whimsy that brings happiness to countless people. The similarities are obvious, so it's not surprising that a couple years back, there were rumors that Steven Spielberg was trying to coax Willy Wonka himself, Gene Wilder, out of retirement to play James Halliday. The role ultimately went to Mark Rylance, and according to Ready Player One screenwriter Zak Penn, this Wilder rumor was just a rumor, as he explained:
First of all, it is not true that he was trying to get Gene Wilder out of retirement. I think that was just a rumor that went around but wasn't actually the case. Mark and Steven had just worked together on two movies, and he's literally considered the best stage actor in the world. He's certainly one of the most physically capable actors in the world, in terms of his control of himself. Him and Daniel Day-Lewis and a couple of other people are the top of the charts. I think there was probably some consideration of other people who are more household names, but it didn't surprise me for a second that it ended up being Mark Rylance.
Here's the thing -- with Mark Rylance, you're not casting someone that's LIKE James Halliday. You're casting someone who can become whatever... if you had to do a movie about a snail, you could cast Daniel Day-Lewis, and he'd live like a snail for a year and make a convincing snail. And Mark is like that. He can do anything. So it was a pretty unsurprising call from inside because he had just been nominated for an Oscar. It seemed like a no-brainer.
Speaking during an exclusive sit down on CinemaBlend's weekly podcast, ReelBlend, to discuss Ready Player One spoilers, Zak Penn makes some great points about casting James Halliday. The rumor that Gene Wilder would play James Halliday was a fun one, but it was just that; something that would be a fun nod to one of the actor's most famous roles, but it wasn't necessary for Ready Player One to be successful. And sadly, the beloved Gene Wilder passed away in August of 2016 at the age of 83. While Gene Wilder and his portrayal of Willy Wonka are iconic, there are other characters capable of playing eccentric inventors.
Casting Steven Spielberg's frequent collaborator Mark Rylance is far from slumming it. Mark Rylance is an Academy Award winner and a highly regarded and capable actor. You don't look for an actor who is already like the character, you look for an actor with the skills to become the character. Similar to how you don't only look at bald people when casting a bald character, you look at who can bring the most to the role and who can become the character. And yes, I now want to see Daniel Day-Lewis and Mark Rylance cast in a buddy snail movie just to see how far the method acting goes. Zak Penn continued:
And also, remember, whomever is playing Halliday is really playing three different parts, not just two. Which is something people forget. It's not just Halliday, and Anorak. He's also playing a version of Halliday that exists inside of the OASIS. Which is somewhat different from the book.
While I have not read the book, Mark Rylance's performance in the Ready Player One movie was great, and it's even more impressive when you consider all he had to do and how important James Halliday is to the movie even though he isn't the main character. The key to the OASIS contest is getting to know James Halliday not superficially, but emotionally; how he felt about his life and his creation, what he loved and what he regretted. Mark Rylance conveyed all the intellect, quirky awkwardness, childlike whimsy and sorrow that were necessary for such a complex character. The whole film is a blast and Mark Rylance is also awesome as the wizard Anorak. And just like Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, Mark Rylance maintained a constant twinkle in his eye.
This is just part of a super geeky and fun conversation with Zak Penn on our ReelBlend podcast discussing Ready Player One, as well as everything from Star Wars to Meryl Streep. The ReelBlend podcast is a LIVE weekly podcast on CinemaBlend's Facebook page. You can check out this and past episodes on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify. You can also follow the show @ReelBlend and the team at @Sean_OConnell, @JakesTakes and @KevinMcCarthyTV. Take a listen to the full episode of ReelBlend with Zak Penn below: