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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Casting the Joe Paterno movie

When it came to the Penn State scandal, I’m not so sure a movie was one of the byproducts we expected to come from this whole sick fiasco. A book? Sure. Sad, delusional protests? Of course! But an actual movie with at least one A-list actor? No way.

But now Deadline is reporting that a movie based on the scandal is in the works with the godfather himself Al Pacino on board:

ICM Partners next week will be taking a package for a movie about former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, with Al Pacino attached to play the man called JoePa by most students at Happy Valley. The package will be built around Joe Posnanski’s biography Paterno, which is now atop The New York Times Bestseller List in its second week. Pacino’s manager, Rick Nicita, will produce.

According to Deadline, the movie could be either a feature film or a straight-to-TV film, presumably less Lifetime-y and more HBO-y with a loaded cast and high production value.

Big screen or small screen, either way, this is a deep story with a wealth of characters (some who are certain characters). So, you probably know where we go from here: Let’s speculate who gets to star in this flick!

So, what’re the criteria here? Are you casting based on how much a certain actor looks like the person they’re portraying? Or is it based on how good of an actor the person is and their potential to bring the character to life and provide a solid contribution to the film as a whole? Ideally, it’ll be a little bit of both.

Denzel Washington is a good example of somebody who fits “a little of both.” He absolutely killed his portrayal of Malcolm X (OK, poor choice of words). He owned it. He was nominated for awards. Today one could make the argument that nobody else was fit for that role. But, look, Denzel isn’t winning any Malcolm X doppelganger contests. Only when he put on those glasses and the suit, he became passable.

There’s also Julianne Moore, who looks nothing like Sarah Palin, but with the hair, the glasses, and the accent in “Game Change,” she was practically a dead ringer for the hilariously awful former VP candidate. There’s nothing some props or a little hair and makeup (or voice coaching) can’t fix.

But sometimes filmmakers couldn’t care less about staying true to the accuracy of appearance. Take “Moneyball.” Skinny people were played by fat people. Players with accents were portrayed by actors who didn’t use accents. And dark-haired, brown-eyed Billy Beane was played by blonde-haired, blue-eyed Brad Pitt. We’re sure Beane didn’t mind.

So, with all that in mind, here’s how I’d cast some of the remaining key characters (I haven’t read Posnanski’s book yet, so I’m not sure what characters the movie if it uses the book as its primary reference, would focus on. These, however, have been the relevant names throughout the scandal):

Jeff Bridges as Jerry Sandusky. Kind of hard to see Bridges portraying Sandusky since he’s The Dude, somebody wholly the opposite of a child-preying monster. But Bridges is a great actor, and I have no doubts he could pull it off. Just throw a white wig on him. Also, apologies to Jeff for coming up with his name first when thinking of a child molester.

Damian Lewis as Mike McQueary, the Penn State graduate assistant who allegedly saw Sandusky raping one of his victims in the football facility’s showers and a guy who apparently can’t get his story right. I don’t know. If you can think of any athletically built ginger actors, feel free to suggest them. But Lewis is great on “Homeland” and the only red-headed actor I could think of other than Seth Green, who doesn’t quite look like a former football player. But at least we also get our obligatory British actor playing an American!

Susan Sarandon as Sue Paterno, Joe Paterno’s wife. Just as I’m presuming will be the case with Pacino, abundant use of prosthetic makeup to age Sarandon will be needed for present-day scenes.

Kyle Chandler as Jay Paterno, son in denial. Coach Taylor!

Justin Timberlake as some Penn State player or assistant or student or whatever. OK, this is probably a pointless casting decision. But JT is everywhere these days. You can’t be surprised if he were to find his way into this movie somehow. Plus, it’d also be nice to see Susan Sarandon and him reunited.

Eric Stonestreet as Scott Paterno, Paterno’s youngest son who was frequently seen accompanying his father and deflecting questions from newshounds outside his parents’ home. Stonestreet comes from a mostly comedic background, but he, uh, fits the profile.

Kevin Spacey as Joe Amendola, Sandusky’s creepy, bumbling, goober of a lawyer. If you absolutely can’t get Stan’s dad from South Park for this role, go with Spacey.

Victor Garber as Graham Spanier, the former Penn State president who in 2001 allegedly colluded with university administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley as well as Joe Paterno to cover up the scandal upon learning of McQueary’s accusations against Sandusky.

John Goodman as Gary Schultz, former Penn State vice president.

Ed Begley Jr. as Tim Curley, Penn State’s athletic director.

Bryan Cranston as Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI whom Penn State enlisted to conduct an internal investigation into the scandal; among Freeh’s numerous damning findings was the above mentioned attempted cover-up.

Jeffrey Wright as Franco Harris, Steelers Hall of Famer and former Penn State player under Paterno who has made it his pitiful, undying crusade to clear former coach of any wrongdoing.

Mila Kunis is a made-up, unimportant, pretty-face secondary character that has no real-life counterpart. Just ‘cuz.

Kristen Stewart as Sara Ganim, a reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who won a Pulitzer for her coverage of the scandal. Let’s hope K-Stew will keep it in her pants this time.

C’mon, Hollywood. Let’s get this done.

Screengrab via arguably the greatest Al Pacino line of all time.

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