Chromatic Casting: David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman

By Arturo R. García

It was confirmed earlier this week that NBC is moving forward with the pilot episode for David E. Kelley’s much-discussed Wonder Woman revamp. Not only that, but the alleged script for the episode has leaked online.

So, using some reports on the script as a guide, let’s step back into remix mode and pick contenders for both the characters confirmed to appear, and some important members of Diana’s personal canon, assuming the show survives.

A note on the choices: this time around, I played it a little closer to the vest and went with actors more likely to be available. So, names like Maggie Q (Nikita), Rutina Wesley (True Blood) and D.B. Woodside (Hellcats) missed the cut.

That said, if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon, some of these picks might make you wish (again) he’d gotten to stick with the project.

First, let’s talk about Diana herself. According to iFanboy, this Diana is very much written as the archetypical Kelley heroine: juggling a lot of hats in her life. And in this case, three different identities:

Primarily, she is Wonder Woman, superhero crime fighter in Los Angeles. In a world (and a town) that worships celebrities, she’s the biggest one there is. She is also Diana Themyscira (her “secret identity” is not a secret to the world), the head of Themyscira Industries, whose primary function is to make money to fund Wonder Woman’s super heroics. They do this primarily through selling Wonder Woman merchandise. But Themyscira Industries also functions as her super hero support staff: she’s got analysts and techies and such to help her while she’s in the field. What most people don’t know is that Diana has a THIRD identity, that of Diana Prince. In this identity she pulls a Clark Kent act – she puts in colored contacts and puts on glasses and changes her hair and her body language. This identity serves to help Diana feel more normal and more a part of the world around her, which will clearly be a running theme in the series. It is implied in the script that as Diana Prince she also holds a low level job at Themyscira Industries, which is honestly kind of bizarre.

Entertainment Weekly had previously released a wish-list of its’ own for the role, but with all due respect … uh, Keri Russell? Sorry, but in this case a popular fandom pick still fits:

Wonder Woman: Gina Torres
Kelley’s version of Diana seems to be written to be in her thirties, an unexpected blessing – can’t really see Torres playing an ingenue, y’know? Plus, the argument that Torres wouldn’t “get” the character is now absolutely null and void: Torres voiced WW for the recently-released DCU Online video game, as well as her evil alternate-universe counterpart, Superwoman, in the Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths animated feature. Whether it be in the old-school star-spangled shorts originated by Lynda Carter, or the new “street avenger”-ish costume, this should be Torres’ role to lose. Her biggest challenge would be lifting up some of the more groan-worthy lines in the script, which includes lines like, “Lucy’s got some ‘splaining to do.” Seriously.

Of course, Kelley also has a tendency to fail the Bechdel test, and according to a review in Bleeding Cool, that’s the case for the pilot, as well, which features WW’s original love interest, Steve Trevor.

Steve Trevor is a major factor in Diana’s life. Trevor is also the key motivator for her not only leaving the island, but coming to LA. He’s the LOVE of her life. It’s great to see Wonder Woman with a love interest. My concern is it’s just such a big part of her story. That and that she moons like a teenager (She’s supposed to be early 30s) over him. This love has kicked her ass according to Kelley’s script. She’s “Like a deer in the headlights” when she sees him. “Death” it says in the script as she hears his romantic status. Why can’t we just have a fun Diana who is like a female Bruce Wayne dating a new guy or girl every week? Having her so attached to one person is another example of the small scope of the show.

Based on this, Trevor’s character seems to be the trickiest: based on Kelley’s prior efforts, he’s probably going to be written as a well-meaning alpha male around just about everybody but Diana. And in true Kelley tradition, he’s going to be a lawyer. So you need somebody who can command attention, while still being sympathetic (and, also as per Kelley tradition, maybe a bit shady, too.)

Steve Trevor: Ian Anthony Dale
I gave The Event a shot when it debuted, but when almost nothing of interest happened in the premiere, I walked away. That said, Dale’s character, Agent Simon Lee, stood out by being … well, halfway interesting. He could fare better as a romantic lead, while the character would allow him to retain some action-hero swagger.

(Aside: What about Boris Kodjoe from Undercovers, you ask? Well, he and co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw are my own Chromatic Iron Man & Pepper Potts. Just saying.)

Myndi Main: Dichen Lachman
Lachman’s emergence as Priya/Sierra on Dollhouse was one of the series’ highlights, even if her character went through the most severely messed-up backstory in the series. So playing Diana’s girl Friday might give Lachman a chance to do something more fun, for a change. And, hey, if the tempo needs to be changed, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Etta Candy: Miracle Laurie Here’s where things start getting confusing. Etta dates back to the 1940s, and has been written over the years as being weight-conscious, which could prove problematic. I went with Laurie, who played Mellie/November on Dollhouse, out of hope that she both gets to play a more size-positive version of Etta, positioned here as Diana’s personal assistant – and that later on we get to discover Etta is actually a spy assigned to shadow her, which would allow Laurie to get in on the action.

Veronica Cale: Indira Varma
Cale, put simply, is Diana’s personal Lex Luthor – brilliant, ruthless, and ego-driven. Keeping in mind that Luthor is at his best when written to be graceful, you need an actress that smartens up any scene, and Varma’s recent run on BBC shows like Torchwood and Luther showed all of those sides. She’s been appearing on ABC’s Human Target adaptation, but would getting the chance to play a true Big Bad lure her to jump ship? We hope so.

These are all the primary characters we know about right now, so from this point on it’s all a roll of the dice. Diana’s got more potentially screen-ready rogues than you might imagine, but it’s all a matter of having the chance to get to them. It should also be noted that I’m sticking with the more “classic” comic-book versions of the characters, instead of the ones used in J. Michael Straczynski’s recent truncated reboot.

Cheetah: Dania Ramírez
The character got some shine in the various SuperFriends cartoons in the late 1970s, but for this version, we’re going with Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, an archaeologist whose rivalry with Diana escalates from simply wanting to steal her Lasso of Truth into something more personal. Add to that the werewolf-like pain Minerva’s super-fast alter-ego causes her, and becomes the kind of wild-card that could cause real damage.

And as maligned as Ramírez’s efforts on Heroes were, she does have some experience in comic-book land, and as a speedster, to boot: her version of Callisto in the equally-maligned X-Men 3: The Last Stand was one of the few highlights of the film.

Artemis: Kelly Hu
Yeah, I know Hu is on The Vampire Diaries, but if Kelley ever decides to recreate the arc where the character, Diana’s fiercest friend/rival from Paradise Island, actually takes over as WW, forcing a humbled Diana must win back her title by trial of combat, you need a solid action heroine to believably stand up to Torres, and Hu has plenty of experience on that front.

Circe: Laila Rouass One of Diana’s most well-established rivals. Aristocratic, sensual, and a schemer – in other words, the kind of character Rouass played to perfection on Footballers Wives a few years back.

Hippolyta: Angela Bassett
THE guest-star, and in a weird way, it would work in the confines of the Kelleyverse. Because if Diana’s ex-boyfriend causes her this much grief, how intimidating would it be to face the prospect of her “mother” visiting? How could Bassett play Torres’ mother, you ask? Simple – Diana, let’s not forget, was molded from clay. (It’s comic-books.)

Ares: Henry Lennix
You could get really cute and cast Torres’ husband, Laurence Fishburne, as the God of War here. But Lennix played a warrior in his own right in The Matrix Revolutions opposite Fishburne, and has the gravitas to elevate even the goofiest sci-fi writing. Remember, on Dollhouse he played an Evil Genius who pretended to go to work for his own company in order to observe and then experiment on a woman his company captured while she was trying to destroy it. And all this before his character’s mind was wiped and killed off. So anything Kelley comes up with here can’t be that strange by comparison.

Early reviews of the pilot script indicate that Kelley is on the right path, which is encouraging – it’s way past time Wonder Woman returned to a national spotlight, since DC Comics has long promoted her as being on par with Superman and Batman as a cornerstone of its’ universe. But this new show is fighting not just the hopes and expectations of Diana’s fans, but Kelley’s own history of placing “quirks” above strengths, and NBC’s track-record with this kind of show, as demonstrated by Heroes, and now, The Cape, a 1990s-tastic slice of awful that, hopefully, is not long for this world. That said, though, the program might be better off at NBC than at The CW, the longtime home of Clark Kent on Smallville, because it spares us the chance of this scene from Superman #708 playing out:

Bottom line: Diana is nobody’s fangirl – she’s an inspiration in her own right. Let’s hope Kelley gets that.

  • Anonymous

    Arturo wrote about this here:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2011/01/24/chromatic-casting-remixing-the-dark-knight-rises/

    But it’s more about the whole context. If it was just one or two characters getting the racial swap, it wouldn’t be very remarkable. But there is a history of whitewashing characters of color – and maintaining entirely white worlds in general – in filmmaking. So the question Art asks is if it is so easy to change a character from of color to white, why doesn’t it work the opposite way.

    The outrage from fans, by the way, tells the story. If a character becomes white (like with the racebending debacle) it’s because “maybe that’s the best actor for the role.” If a white character becomes darker, it’s “an outrage” or “out of canon.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O7R6HKBBGZDGRIHVANYZKE7VXA Ana Regina

    Ginas Torres looks like Philipus mentor to Wonder Woman and Captain of the army of Themyscira.

    I’m wishing for Tanit Phoenix; Nadia Bjorlin; Lorena Bernal or Megan Fox Dispute will be protagonist title of Wonder Woman.

    Lorena Bernal physical resemblance to the beautiful Megan Fox.
    The supermodel Tanit Phoenix looks like Lynda Carter, ex-Wonder Woman.
    Nadia Bjorlin is greater resemblance to Wonder Woman comic.