12 Angry Men is one of my very favourite films. The 1957 theatre-adaptation is the pinnacle of courtroom dramas and is the dictionary definition of a ‘classic’. Originally helmed by Sidney Lumet who would go on to make Network, Dog Day Afternoon and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead amongst others as well as starring the brilliant Henry Fonda (father of Jane). Its lesser-known TV movie remake forty years later featured the likes of Jack Lemmon (in Fonda’s ‘juror #8’ role) and James Gandolfini, with the legendary William Friedkin on directing duties.
Discussion of 12 Angry Men always prompts the question of an ideal line-up if money, availability and other tricky factors were no issue, and so what I propose here is my ultimate modern-day cast. Ignoring a clash of styles and egos, and forgetting star status and the rest of it, my picks aren’t merely a who’s-who of fame but severely consider the qualities of each character, physically and otherwise. That all being said, here’s my version of the greatest ensemble ever:
Juror #1 – Paul Giamatti
Contenders: Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany
Character: The foreman is respectful of the others, attempts to keep order and gets frustrated when not able to do so. Close to neutral and gives away little, focused on taking charge of the procedural side instead.
Actor: Giamatti has played versions of loveable-losers in the likes of Sideways and Win Win, without letting them become truly pathetic. He wins the battle of the three Pauls for his ability to retain an element of control whilst simultaneously sulking.
Juror #2 – Toby Jones
Contenders: Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent
Character: Withdrawn and introverted, juror #2 clearly has sense and intellect but is – at least initially – unable to convey this adequately.
Actor: It calls for an unassuming actor who can find the meat in even the smallest parts. Step forward Toby Jones.
Juror #3 – Jeremy Irons
Contenders: Michael Shannon, Albert Brooks, Jeff Daniels, Ron Perlman, John Goodman
Character: Much of the presence of the greatest antagonist comes through his physicality. He dominates the room with a lumbering body, resentful face and booming voice.
Actor: A diverse bunch who could each bring something rather special to the role and dominate the room when required. In the end it was a toss-up between Irons, Brooks and Shannon, with the former just edging it because of the ability to generate such ferocity in voice, face and mannerisms.
Juror #4 – Kevin Spacey
Contenders: Mark Strong, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hugo Weaving
Character: Probably the most difficult decision, as this clinical, painfully-objective stockbroker relies on rationality over the emotion that guides the man sitting next to him (and many of the others).
Actor: Perhaps this is me shoehorning my favourite actor into things, but Spacey has great experience in ensemble casts via The Usual Suspects, Margin Call (along with two of the others cast in this fantasy remake) and Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s with this last of the three that his performance would be closest to in a way that only Spacey could.
Juror #5 – Adrien Brody
Contenders: Ben Mendelsohn, Christian Bale, Michael Sheen
Character: The distinctive features of Jack Klugman in the original brought to life the believability of this juror’s backstory. Born-and-bred in the slums but now a resourceful, proud sports fan.
Actor: Brody has an ability to play fragile or slightly vulnerable characters, from The Pianist to Detachment. It also helps that he has the exact look for the part.
Juror #6 – Mark Duplass
Contenders: Jason Segel, John C. Reilly
Character: Juror #6 is a pretty likeable, gentle giant who shows his true colours as an honest and respectful working man when he defends the honour of juror #9.
Actor: Again a good match in his look and physicality for the part, but more than that it would be extremely interesting to see his talents transformed from the quirky indie comedies he’s made his name with to an all-star cast of competing actors.
Juror #7 – Thomas Haden Church
Contenders: Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Aaron Eckhart
Character: A difficult decision in terms of appearance, hence the rather diverse options selected. The salesman is more interested in sports than courts, and shows his immaturity and childishness in his refusal to acknowledge his responsibilities.
Actor: A showdown between Cooper and Church who have both displayed these abilities in past performances. But Church wins out so that he can sit opposite his Sideways co-star Giamatti with both playing similar roles. And he’s less likely to steal focus from juror #8 than Cooper with his good looks.
Juror #8 – Zachary Quinto
Contenders: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Affleck, Michael Fassbender
Character: The most obviously prestigious and coveted role as white knight ‘Davis’, aka juror #8. Must be able to display patience, persuasion, assertiveness, warmth and likeability – it’s all about the soft sell.
Actor: Despite Affleck’s notable directing prowess it’s his improvement and maturity on-screen that has gone underreported. The culmination of which was a fine performance in Argo, holding things together impressively. However he would still be a slightly unexciting choice and, whilst Fassbender would surely be outstanding it’s a slightly obvious one, and so it’s to youth that we rightfully turn. Cumberbatch is striking and entrancing no doubt – if a little showy – but it’s to the true star of Star Trek that we turn, not forgetting that he’s already more than held his own in a star-studded Margin Call cast too.
Juror #9 – Alan Arkin
Contenders: Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Ian McKellen
Character: The eldest of the group invokes feelings of pity and sympathy because of supposed fragility, but also remains resolute and quickly becomes Quinto’s unlikely sidekick.
Another: Speaking of Argo, here’s the headline-grabber. Arkin has also appeared in Glengarry Glen Ross (alongside Spacey) in a similar sort of role and would immediately have the audience onside with a humorous and warm display.
Juror #10 –John Hurt
Contenders: Gary Oldman, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken
Character: The bigoted fellow getting on in years is more Adam Sutler (V for Vendetta) than Ollivander. Stubborn, reckless, rude and aggressive is juror #10 in a nutshell.
Actor: Hurt can and has played a variety of roles displaying extraordinary versatility and talent in his lengthy career. Here it’s quite possibly he’d excel and steal the show as the second antagonist. Tinker Tailor and Harry Potter co-star Oldman is in reserve for his wonderful villain in Leon.
Juror #11 – Christoph Waltz
Contenders: Javier Bardem, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Character: Full of European charm and eccentricity, polite and restrained but brings his opinions to the forefront with patience and nerve when the time comes.
Actor: Hmmm, who could it be? The first six words in the character description above should bring one name immediately to mind. Bardem, Mikkelsen and the Game of Thrones star – though all very different – could each excel, but this part was one of those just made for Waltz for his ability to play with language and deliver lines wonderfully.
Juror #12 – Robert Downey Jr.
Contenders: Mark Ruffalo, Benicio Del Toro
Character: A little flippant, struggles to pay attention and keep focus, and is more concerned with making little quips about his job.
Actor: More than any other piece of casting, this is the one I’m convinced by (and started with). Though it would be a bit more Kiss Kiss Bang Bang / Zodiac than full-blown Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes, Downey’s gestures are almost a replication of those in the original actor, and it would be a near-perfect fit. Oh and Giamatti trying to control him and Waltz next to each other? Compulsive viewing.
Written by the snappy and witty Aaron Sorkin for his fast-paced, dialogue-driven scripts, and directed by someone able to handle personalities, get brilliant performances from them, and is guaranteed to deliver a wonderful show: his Social Network collaborator David Fincher.
So there we have it. 12 Angry Men, coming to an imagination near you. If you have a better cast in mind, I’d love to hear it.