Last week saw a rumour spreading regarding the casting of the lead in Sony’s Spider-Man reboot. Apparently OK, along with a couple of tabloids picked up on a story that High School Musical’s Zach Efron was signing to play Peter Parker for m. I don’t want to go too much into this specific story, Ben Mortimer’s article earlier last week (here) was spot on. Why would a young actor seemingly going out of his way to claw back credibility agree to what amounts to High School Spider-Man?

What the story did achieve was to set me thinking about this kind of casting rumour, and the causes and effects such rumours have. So who starts these rumours? They can come from several different sources. In the case of the Efron story, it’s most likely made up by the writer, using tenuous information mixed together with pure speculation. By naming a star with a high profile amongst the readers of gossip magazines, and linking him with a popular blockbuster movie series, a tabloid can increase sales.

Efron, as the highest profile actor of a viable age for the part, is an obvious target. The majority of tabloid readers generally aren’t keyed in to the industry enough to realise how unlikely these rumours are. And because national press newspapers rarely report on movie casting, they can get away with the occasional wild story. Trade publications have to be a bit more careful. It’s because newspapers don’t run casting stories that we can be sure the ones they do are usually nonsense. I remember a couple of years ago a UK newspaper announcing the casting of pop star Robbie Williams as the new Captain Kirk, after wowing producers with his audition. Gossip about popular celebs is good for circulation.

Another source of rumours is the camp of the actors in question, usually an agent or publicist. The benefit of this tends to be raising the profile of the performer. If an established actor is struggling to get parts, or an up and coming actor is looking for a big break, such speculation brings them to pubic attention. This often leads to casting in other parts, as studio capitalize on the actor’s increased recognition. It can also occasionally lead to consideration for the original part, if the reaction to the news is favourable.

Studios themselves can seed rumours, in order to create buzz for a forthcoming project. This is less likely than other sources, however. Casting obviously comes before a production starts, and the benefit of any buzz created will be negligible a year and a half, two years later when the movie is finally released. It can be more useful as a means to attract bigger stars to a project. When big names are linked to a script, other A-listers are more likely to take an interest.

So rumours can be beneficial. They can also have the opposite effect. Actors, particularly, can be adversely affected by false casting reports. If Efron, for example, is continually linked to high school set films like Spider-Man, or countless High School Musical rip-offs, he is less likely to be offered more serious roles. Producers may doubt his ability or suitability for the role, or they may be concerned his presence could put off the audience they are aiming at. When an actor is tipped for a part, and they don’t get it, it can be wrongly assumed they failed to get it, that their ability wasn’t up to the role.

It can also affect the actor who does finally take the job. Constant comparisons, sometimes unfavourable, can be made to a star previously named in connection to the movie. Clive Owen was persistently linked with the James Bond role, and when Daniel Craig was named instead, there was somewhat of a backlash against Craig as a result. In the end, the choice would prove beneficial to both careers. Craig has done a great job in the series, and Owen has got to play great roles in the likes of Inside Man and Children of Men.

As for us, the consumer, casting rumours are a part of our enjoyment in following the industry. They give us something to talk about, argue about, even fantasise about. We all like to name actors we think would be good for particular parts. Speculation has been rife over the casting of Spider-Man since the reboot was announced. So it’s understandable for these types of stories to crop up.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not calling for wild speculation to be reigned in, it’s just important that we have some sympathy for the performers whose career path is constantly under the microscope. Because of all the sources that are responsible for it’s very rarely the actors at the centre of the media storm that are to blame.

Bazmann –