Casting the Trump Cinematic Universe
It might be easy to overlook this considering we get a weekly comedy roast of the current goings-on in the Donald Trump presidential administration, but we're not too many years away from the movie version. Though the script is still being written, it's worth taking this opportunity to lock down the cast.
Some ground rules:
Anyone who's ever played a Trump character is excluded from consideration. This is a fresh cast. That means no SNL actors, no Anthony Atamanuik (who hosted The President Show on Comedy Central), no Laura Benanti (who plays Melania Trump on Colbert), etc. Unfortunately, this excludes Matt Damon, who played Brett Kavanaugh in a handful of appearances.
Looks are not the primary factor, but the actor should at least resemble the character if you squint from a few feet away.
No time travel. We can add a few years here and there, but we can't warp someone to have them play a much younger or older person.
Chemistry matters. While we're choosing recognizable actors, it can't be an A-List ensemble of Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Denzel Washington, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Actors have to fit into their roles. There's limited screentime – even though this is probably going to be a three-part movie (or two seasons on Netflix), there still aren't enough total minutes to go around.
Some characters will not be cast due to the lack of a justifiable story arc or redundancy with a cast character. These include Eric Trump, Tiffany Trump, Kirstjen Nielsen, Rod Rosenstein, Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, Don McGahn, Ronny Jackson, HR McMaster, Michael Flynn, Jim Comey, and Nikki Haley.
Let’s do it. Click each image to see the full-size version.
Donald Trump: Josh Brolin (Runner-up: John Lithgow)
This is easily the hardest casting choice – not only because we're excluding Atamanuik from consideration, but also because it's hard to visualize someone who could even generally match the physical profile. Alec Baldwin's impersonation, while accurate, is a deliberate exaggeration, perfect for a six-minute skit. You need a version that's generally more mellow but prone to bursts of crazed energy. It needs Jesse Eisenberg's character work combined with the body type of the exact opposite of Jesse Eisenberg. Brolin fits here not just because he's used to playing a villain (Thanos in the MCU) and a US President (George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's W), but because he has the capability to dominate a scene simply with his voice. Lithgow also has experience as a head of state (Winston Churchill in The Crown), and would likely bring a darker, more crazed tone to the character.
Melania Trump: Marion Cotillard
Not allowing Laura Benanti really hurts considering how impressive her impersonation is, but Cotillard brings the grace and silent annoyance that Melania has become known for. There's a way to work Jennifer Lawrence – who already has experience doing an accent in Red Sparrow – into this role, but Melania is far too limiting of a character for Lawrence, who often struggles to thrive in an auxiliary part. It's likely that Melania's largest contribution to the film would be a three-minute flashback scene to Melania's quick ascent through the modeling world, culminating in a rendezvous with Trump, cutting to a close-up of her regret-filled eyes.
Donald Trump Jr: Christian Bale (Runner-up: Jake Gyllenhaal)
Trump Jr. is perhaps the most important player in this entire game, as his actions are the key to Russian collusion case. He'll take up a number of the non-Donald-Trump-Sr minutes, so an actor who can control scenes is imperative. It's a close competition between Bale and Gyllenhaal who both bring excellent acting tools for this casting. Bale's floor is extremely high, as he is reliable from scene to scene, and can master the smugness that Trump Jr. wears on top of his cologne. Gyllenhaal brings a sinister vibe, perfect for someone who supposedly commits crimes with ease.
Ivanka Trump: Jessica Chastain (Runner-up: Margot Robbie)
There's no shortage of blondes to throw in the Ivanka role – most tempting among them is Amanda Seyfried, who has famously played an incredible airhead – but this role goes to a redhead. The character of Ivanka can't appear to be in on the joke, and be capable of saying things like "people want to work for what they get" and unironically publishing a book called "Women Who Work." Robbie is slightly too playful and a bit too self-assured, while Chastain is guaranteed to bring in that wavering confidence that Ivanka uses to convince herself she belongs in the room. It's a subtle balance of ditz, privilege, and conviction, melded with a sincerity that seems like it was crafted while staring into a mirror.
Jared Kushner: Kieran Culkin
Kushner's meekness – or at least, his lack of a public profile for someone with a number of responsibilities – has become something of a trademark. It's the only thing we really have to go on. Culkin would be incredible at combining the burden of responsibility with a veneer of incompetence, and he has plenty of room for creative freedom.
Barron Trump: Louis Hynes
You might be wondering why Barron is in here while so many other more important names were axed, but Barron is a key cog in driving the humanity of this story. A movie that makes it easy to hate Donald Trump is hardly compelling – there has to be a reason why you stay invested in the plight of the protagonist even if you know how the overall arc comes to a close. We don't know too much about Barron's personality or what he even sounds like, so we get to play around a bit. Hynes is just about the right age (17 compared to Barron's 12), and has experience playing an awkward, at-times brilliant kid in The Series of Unfortunate Events. The ideal pick here would have been Asa Butterfield a decade ago, but alas.
The Inner Circle
Mike Pence: Michael C. Hall
Pence wouldn't have too many speaking lines in this movie (just like in real life), so let's not waste lines on him here. Hall has brief experience playing John F. Kennedy in The Crown, so he'd fit into the second-in-command (Hall is more used to the shadows anyway). Plus, he could probably say 'Mother' with the exact amount of creepiness necessary.
Vladimir Putin: Christoph Waltz
The Trump-Putin summit at Helsinki is an incredibly important scene, as is the private conversation (only with translators in the room) of which the public never got to see the transcript. Waltz's accent, though not Russian, is foreign enough to work, and his brimming self-assuredness is a Putin staple. They're also exactly the same height and only four years apart in age.
Steve Bannon: Russell Crowe (Runner-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman, posthumously)
Bannon is a curious character, someone who became overnight famous along with his website Breitbart, and just as quickly disappeared into the shadows, presumably to topple democracies in Europe. Russell Crowe has the resume to play a gross douche, having recently played Roger Ailes. Hoffman, meanwhile, would have been an ideal choice for a Bannon-centric story, as he could couple the villainy of Owen Davian (Mission Impossible) with the gamesmanship of Plutarch Heavensbee (Hunger Games).
Stephen Miller: Michael Kelly
This is perhaps my personal favorite casting – Kelly not only matches Miller's unusual face shape, but has the same trademark smirk, cadence, hairline, and dead stare. Miller is an underrated cog in the Trump machine, the primary architect of things like the Muslim Ban and child separation, and Kelly's ability to exude darkness would give this character the treatment it deserves.
Seb Gorka: Anthony Hopkins
There's no one this side of Louis CK and Judd Apatow that can come close to Gorka in looks, so let's abandon that entirely. Both Gorka and Hopkins speak with a convincing and authoritative flair, with a touch of fury threatening to bubble to the top. Gorka is a nonessential piece, but can come in to deliver a two minute monologue at a time of need.
Kellyanne Conway: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Conway is a key player, someone who has survived the routine purges within the administration and epitomizes its continuous golden shower of falsehoods. It's only for such a pivotal character that we bring out the GOAT of comedy, an actress who can be combative yet controlled, thirsty for attention yet dead behind her eyes.
Jeff Sessions: Geoffrey Rush
While the Jeff-Geoff combo is unassailable, Rush is the foreign actor most likely to be able to pull off a Southern drawl. The slightly boyish face helps too. Sessions' recusal would be the first explosive scene in the movie, as we would witness Trump lose his temper for the first time.
Matt Whitaker: Michael Chiklis
It should probably be another rule that a bald person has to be played by a bald actor. JK Simmons is too thin, Patrick Stewart is too dignified, Bruce Willis isn't enough of a fake badass, and Vin Diesel is too shitty at speaking English. Chiklis could work as a steroid infused monsters with the credibility of a toilet salesman, having played The Thing (Fantastic Four).
Rex Tillerson: Jeff Bridges
It's a shame that the rules prevent us from using John Goodman here, but Bridges is a suitable alternative (Goodman could have been a choice for Attorney General William Barr, but Barr's squeaky voice is irreconcilable with Goodman's deep rumble). Sexy Rexy is only in the movie so he can get fired while taking a shit (it's a shame that Charles Dance / Tywin Lannister isn't enough of a visual match), building up the indignities of aggrieved former Trump allies as the secondary conflict of this tale.
Rick Perry: Dennis Quaid
While Dennis Quaid prefers sunglasses, glasses are glasses, and a must if you want to look as pretend-smart as Rick Perry. You might think that Perry is not exceptionally important, but he would be the proxy for the Republican establishment that Trump barreled through in 2016, as he's far more interesting as a rival candidate than the Secretary of Energy (even Josh Gad couldn't make Jeb Bush into a high-energy character).
Ben Carson: Morgan Freeman
Sure, this feels a bit lazy to use the premier old-black-actor in Hollywood, but the cadence to Freeman's voice is perfect to match Carson's sleepy, bored demeanor. Carson is necessary for Trump to convince himself that he indeed not racist, a belief central to sympathizing with his character.
Betsy DeVos: Diane Keaton
Keaton's controlled craziness and scene-stealing ability is enough to adequately portray a woman defined by her utter lack of knowledge about the powers she has been granted.
Robert Mueller: Tom Hollander
Mueller's voice is far less confident than you'd like or expect it to be, especially since it is incongruous with the square-jawed former FBI director's appearance. Hollander's whininess consequently plays well and is supplemented by the reserved-ness he emanates.
Kristen Stewart as Hope Hicks
Hicks has an excellent resting bitch face, one that Stewart spent an entire franchise's worth of movies cultivating. It's the only expression that Stewart would be required to use, which is probably for the best. Hicks has an interesting relationship with Trump, as the latter has referred to and treated the former as his daughter, whatever that means.
Sean Spicer: Jack Black
Of all the cadre of chubby guys in Hollywood (Kevin James, Seth Rogen, Zach Galifanakis, and possibly Jonah Hill depending on the month), Black narrowly edges out James due to his ability to look completely serious yet unconfident while saying something utterly ridiculous with a splash of self-awareness. It's unfortunate that we can't make a hybrid actor using James' looks, Rogen's confused look, Galifanakis' and voice.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Leigh's award-worthy performance as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight is evocative of SHS in many ways – the constant whiff of desperation, the unearned self-righteousness, and the ability to (probably) wield several weapons with a startling efficiency. Sanders in real life has vanished in recent months and she is set to leave the administration imminently, so her screentime would be sporadic.
Anthony Scaramucci: Sebastian Maniscalco
Scaramucci would be the political equivalent of JR Smith – comes out of nowhere to put points up on the board, then disappears for months, but is probably out there still making millions of dollars. He is defined by his overt Italian-ness, which is equally true of Maniscalco.
Paul Manafort: Nick Offerman
The extent of Manafort's role would likely be a single shot unrolling a fancy antique rug followed by a shot of him behind bars, both of which are right up Offerman's wheelhouse of blank stares. Manafort's downfall is the first point at which Trump would be required to examine his approach, faced with the reality that his own people are facing repercussions.