See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

Aside from Shepard and the main villains Saren and Benezia, the casting of the squad mates Shepard collects is the most important in the film. This is the core ensemble with whom a lot of quality drama can be created. Or they can be one-dimensional non-characters basically around to look cool and represent a concept, as in something like Clash of the Titans. It would be a mistake to not let these characters come out, since they are all pretty interesting (or can be tweaked) and all the fans have their favorites. You have to give these guys stuff to do in the movie, too. Even if you don’t make them all combatants in the film version, so their presence in action scenes is limited and you can keep the main group tighter, but they need to be around all the same. How prominent you make these characters will make a lot of difference in how you might want to structure the plot, too. They should all have their part to play and I will discuss this further.

Let’s start with Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko. He is the first squad member you get and is in the game right from the beginning. In the movie, he should be with Shepard on Eden Prime obviously, but should also figure prominently as Shepard’s right-hand man (maybe acting XO if Pressly is left out). Kaidan is a voice of reason and has an interesting past which can introduce the concept of Biotics to the audience. Because Kaidan can die in the game, it’s possible he will die in the movie and making him an adviser and “good friend” of Shepard strengthens the impact.

I’m assuming Kaidan Alenko is supposed to be Greek but it sounds like a Star Wars name so I’m not sure. He has a distinctive voice but as long as they don’t stray too far from this with the actor they choose, there’s probably a lot of people who could play him. My personal choice is

Mark Ruffalo who definitely has the right kind of voice and has very rarely been able to do roles like this. The guy might seem to be too “serious actor” for something like this but he recently signed on to play Bruce Banner in The Avengers to replace Edward Norton so I think if the script is good and it’s a quality production, he is not outside of the realm of possibility. Just depends on when they want to get this movie off the ground because Marvel probably has him on a short leash for the next two years but if they squeeze in filming for Mass Effect before it starts on The Avengers, or wait until after, they could conceivably get him. An alternate choice would be Adrian Grenier (Entourage) who could be a really good catch for a movie like this. It’d be interesting in a meta way to see how much like Vince Chase the guy really is.

or this guy?

The main thing is that Kaidan isn’t much of a badass and would likely provide some of the objections to Shepard’s “renegade” behavior. Even though he ends up working with a Specter and thus a bit outside of the normal military hierarchy, Kaidan is a “company man” with a lot of loyalty so it would put some juice into his character to have his loyalty for the Alliance vs. Shepard tested. He doesn’t mind working with aliens, though, and is kind of the “goody-two-shoes” of the group in general. He contrasts very nicely with Garrus and this should be used.

Ashley_Character_BoxGunnery Chief Ashley Williams who is rescued and then recruited on Eden Prime during the initial run-in with Saren and the Geth. She has a great introduction scene in the game and this should remain intact as much as possible. Williams is a young soldier who partially resembles some of the gung-ho tunnel-vision exhibited by modern soldiers seen in interviews from Iraq and Afghanistan in real life. I think this should be played down a bit and have Williams’ chief characteristics be her reliability and checkered military legacy (her dad was a pariah in the Turian War) balance with her inherent distrust for aliens, especially Turians. Williams can also get pretty sarcastic and is kind of a tough bitch all around. She’s the Normandy’s Lt. Vasquez, kind of. She’s like Kaidan in that she’s a company girl and since she’s known Shepard only a little while and is sort of younger (it seems) than either Shepard or Kaidan, she’s quite a bit more stiff and formal at first. This should be carried over into the film, having her loosen up more and more and get into what Shepard is trying to accomplish. Because she is a potential love-interest, having a Shepard who runs things a bit more loosely and tries to encourage Ashley to open up will drive that. It will also pack a punch if she’s who ends up dying later on, as opposed to Kaidan. Shepard is the kind of soldier who Ashley aspires to be and she is very impressed by him, which is the impetus of her affections. To maintain a respectable love triangle in the film, they will have to play this against the circumstantial closeness that develops between Liara and Shepard, especially since Liara is an alien.

My only real choice to play Ashley would be Mila Kunis. The problem here is that she might be too pretty and they didn’t do a very good job of grunging her up for Book of Eli and that movie could be considered strong indication about whether or not Mila Kunis could handle this role. I’m a bit on the fence about it, but Ashley sounds so much like her and looks like her a bit too. The only way Mila Kunis should be cast is if she’s willing to undergo some boot camp style training along with other cast-members to toughen her up. Have her hang out with some of the tough ladies in the armed forces, even. Let a bit of that sauce rub off on her chicken. But alternatively, if you’d like a beautiful woman who has already proven capable of playing tough-girl a bit, try Erica Carera (Eureka). In fact, she looks really good in SWAT armor so… Too bad I’ve never watched Eureka and can’t comment much on her acting. To be honest, I wouldn’t hate Anna Paquin (X-Men trilogy, True Blood, The Squid and the Whale, The 25th Hour) in this role either.

But here’s the aforementioned SWAT armor pic of Erica Carera…

 

Definitely gives you an idea of what she’d look like in armor.

Ashley is a stubborn character but somewhat like Kaidan, she’s pretty loyal to the human military. That said, I think she might be a bit more willing to bend the rules and go along with Shepard without objection with ruthless actions like killing someone who could always be let go. Ashley’s also religious which informs her black and white view of morality while also giving her an interesting dimension to play off of in a conversation given how the setting will affect the “big questions”. I don’t think they should overdo the religion thing, the game certainly doesn’t, but it can be present for a nice bit of characterization and also to give religious audience members a character to root for along these lines (not that they need this, it’s just nice).

The rest of the team are aliens, two of which are going to be primarily voice-acted. I have some ideas on how to pull this off in an interesting way for one of them, where the other would probably just be a standard actor in suit with separate voice actor. Before I talk about them, I will focus on the two characters who can more easily be played by people in costume (with lots and lots of makeup).

Liara133

Liara T’Soli is a blue alien chick with tentacle things for hair. Somehow, the Asari are still kind of attractive and it doesn’t hurt that they all look like human females. She’s a scientist who specializes in the Proteans, the ancient aliens who everybody thinks left behind all the technology including the Mass Accelerators which allow intelligent species to get around and make galactic civilizations 50,000 years later. Because she’s an alien, she’s also capable of doing this kind of mind-meld thing to help Shepard figure out just WTF is going on in the flashes of memory and impression he gets from the Protean relic Saren was after on Eden Prime. Liara is immature because she’s a young member of her species, barely an adult, but she’s also calm and compassionate. She’s a bit awkward and naive, but cares a lot about Shepard. Not allowing her to be a love interest, probably the one who gets a piece of Shepard in the end, misses a huge opportunity to anchor her character as well as make a comment on the human competition vs. cooperation theme which should be running through the movie. That Shepard, the first human Specter and prominent officer in the Alliance Military, should hook up with an Asari is significant. The groundwork for a romance between these two characters is all there in the game. As Liara interprets Shepard’s visions and they talk about this, they also talk about themselves and end up getting close.

Summer_Glau-summer-glau-12Liara’s a bit of an odd duck and often points out how bad she is at social interactions. To make this endearing to audiences, you need someone who can pull off strange but cute. Who better than Summer Glau (Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse, The Sarah Connor Chronicles). She’s a very geek-safe choice and would most likely be willing to handle the make-up. Liara is also young, requiring a relatively youthful actress to bring out that quality of earnest naivete that sorta makes Liara either appealing or annoying depending on who you ask. For potential sequels, you need an actress who can also be tough but still maintain a sensitive core.

Because I think Liara should be a serious contender as Shepard’s love interest, we need an actress who can make her innocence and quirkiness attractive. Liara should bring out some of Shepard’s protectiveness and also provide an escape from his usual environment. She represents something exotic, unfamiliar, and exciting whereas Ashley is a bit more like the women Shepard probably usually meets. Ashley also represents the familiar and a good love triangle should hinge on some conflict, in this case mostly familiar vs. strange. Giving Shepard and Liara some stakes also further personalizes the subtext of anthrocentrism vs. interspecies cooperation.

The other reason to cast Summer Glau is that she has action chops. I’m not sure if it’s necessary to make Liara a combatant and I might even advise against it depending on the scale they go for in the movie’s firefights. The thing is, she can do it even if the movie only calls her to do it once, for the showdown with Benezia for instance. A strong alternative to Summer Glau is Keira Knightley who is an accomplished actress. If she was willing to do the extensive make-up, I think she’d be a good fit.

You need a soft-featured, oval face. Liara looks almost Scandinavian.

Although it will require a lot of make-up and special prosthetics, you can get away with casting an actor to play Garrus Valkarian in a suit. Garrus has a distinctive voice, but I think an approximation can be good enough without having to cast the voice actor. I say this because I think Doug Jones (Hellboy, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Pan’s Labyrinth) would be the best option for Garrus as he’s done a lot of this kind of work in other films and has proven to be one of the best at portraying other-worldly creatures. Doug can also do decent voicework and many don’t realize he did the voice of Abe Sapien in Hellboy 2 as well as filling the suit (they used Frasier’s brother in the first movie). The key to Garrus’ voice is to capture the dry, sarcastic intonation. Garrus talks like he’s in a Western, not necessarily in his lingo but in his cadence. It’s subtle, but should be carried over.

can totally pull off:

Garrus_Vakarian

Garrus looks up to Shepard but also wants him to bend the rules maybe more than Shepard would want to on his own. Garrus leaves C-SEC (an inter-species police force) because of the bureaucracy and red-tape. He wants to be Dirty Harry and fuck criminals up on his own terms. He’s also important because he’s a member of the same species as Saren and so represents that Turians aren’t all human-hating bastards. Garrus is the team’s sniper and a lot of inspiration can be drawn from SWAT-style police for his character’s movements. This requires a strong physical actor, which Doug Jones is. The guy is damn near uncanny. And so skinny you can build almost any kind of humanoid body-type around him.

Ultimately, Garrus isn’t the most important character on the team in Mass Effect but he factors in a lot more for Mass Effect 2. In the first movie, he is there to help flesh Shepard out a bit because he is representative of some of Shepard’s own choices, such as when to ignore the Council. Garrus is the voice of self-reliance and job-done-at-any cost in the group. This is how he is best used in the movie.

These last two team-members are voice-actor only, unless you get people who like to do mocap and the industry is definitely going that way with Avatar, Where the Wild Things Are, and guys like Andy Serkis who mocaps apes great and small.

The other female alien is Tali’Zora whose face you never see. She’s very humanoid but CG or prosthetics will be necessary to give her the reverse-jointed legs and raptor-like hands and feet.

2198111-feros_tali_omnitool_versus_exogeni

You can put pretty much anyone in the suit, either an actress or stuntwoman… it doesn’t much matter as long as you have the right voice. I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t cast Liz Sroka to reprise her role. Tali is the junior member of the team, picked up for her knowledge of Geth. She is the Kaylee Frye (Firefly‘s hot engineering nympho) of the Normandy. She is sweet and earnest and is a big engineering and technology geek (not much of a nympho). Aside from some exposition and maybe a little backstory re: Quarians and Geth as well as Tali’s pilgrimage, Tali is also kind of a minor character except for her possession of evidence linking Saren to Benezia which opens up the post-Citadel leg of the chase. Tali should also provide intel in conversations about Geth, of which there should be a few in the movie. Making her the Scotty of the crew gives her a bit more to do than be an exposition-bot or a plot device. It would be smart to give her a scene or two with Shepard that can establish her awed regard for him (which eventually becomes a crush in Mass Effect 2). At this point, Tali is a young woman who’s sort of lost out in the universe and is basically adopted by Shepard. It isn’t until the sequel that she gets to come into her own a bit more.

The final character, Urdnot Wrex, presents the most significant challenge in terms of portraying a life-like alien in the main cast. Wrex is a Krogan, a race of huge warriors that look like hump-backed humanoid sharks. It will be a combination of puppetry, CG-enhanced performance capture, and guy-in-suit that makes this work. My idea for how to do this properly follows along the lines of what Spike Jonze did with the wild things in Where the Wild Things Are. Have a big guy in a suit do the physical presence of Wrex, perhaps use some puppetry and CG to enhance the finer movements, but do the facial acting with performance capture. Paired with Steven Barr reprising the voice-acting, you’ve got your Wrex. He will definitely be an audience favorite just as he was in the game if done right.

Wrex is a fucking badass. He gets to have badass one-liners and war-stories and basically fuck everything up. He needs to be used in this movie.

Wrex is an old Krogan, kind of a seen-it-all type. He also has a deep but undeveloped sense of responsibility to his race, and even some real vision. This doesn’t come into play until the second game, and may not in a filmic version (though that would be a waste), but it is essential to his character and how I think he should be used in the movie. He shouldn’t be much of an exposition-bot because his personal stuff doesn’t have to factor into the plot of the film very much, but his gruff demeanor, sense of humor, and easy camaraderie and respect for Shepard provide a good balance with the more plot-centric team-members. He’s kind of Shepard’s Chewie, really.

And seriously, guys… Steve Barr needs to do the voice. If I don’t see THIS scene in the movie, I’ll murder someone.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 4 OF THIS SERIES WHERE I WILL DISCUSS HOW TO ADAPT THE PLOT OF A BRANCHING, EPISODIC VIDEOGAME INTO A NARRATIVELY COMPACT FILM!

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