Inception Re-cast: Five Actors Who Would Make A Better Cobb
It’s an All-Purpose facial expression that when executed properly can suggest to the viewer the kind of character depth that can only be earned through intense emotional suffering. He’s been at this for years, as is evidenced by the deeply lined crease between his eyes, but if you go back far enough (say in Titanic or Romeo + Juliet, back when his forehead was smooth) you can see him cultivating this face, perfecting the smoldering, squishy-faced squint that will henceforth convey every complex emotion in the human experience.
As much fun as it would be for me to show more pictures of Mr. DiCaprio emoting as only he can (and I found a TON of them), why not take a turn in a more positive, less squinty direction and discuss five actors whom I feel would have been better suited for the role, shall we?
- Mark Ruffalo – I know what you’re thinking and you are right – but we don’t talk about Just Like Heaven or In the Cut. (Am I perfect? Are you? We all do things we aren’t proud of sometimes). He is very pretty and that sure doesn’t hurt things, but he has also shown in previous roles that he is capable of playing an emotionally complex character with authenticity and depth. His turn in My Life Without Me comes to mind as a good example of playing someone who has been tortured emotionally and he can play soulful, affably unreliable types like nobody’s business. Also! He co-starred with Leo in Shutter Island, so he knows first-hand which faces to avoid making.
- Guy Pearce – Mr. Pearce has worked with Mr. Nolan before (in Memento, which I loved) so there is an established relationship there. He has proven to be a very subtle, low-key performer which I think would translate quite well in the role of Cobb. His body of work is diverse and strong, he has a mutable, transformative quality that I think would have been really interesting in a movie that is so conceptually nimble. And his cheekbones will cut you.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor – He melted my face as Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things, it was the first film I ever saw him in and his performance was so elegant. On the surface, his character shares similarities with Cobb - Okwe is wrongly accused of killing his wife; is desperate to return to his daughter; and is a skilled professional (doctor) who is working an alternate job (cab driver) to facilitate this reunion. In DPT, each reveal about his character was so compelling and engaging, I just know Mr. Ejiofor could have spanked DiCaprio’s Cobb and put him to bed without supper.
- Cillian Murphy – So, Cillian here played Robert Fischer, Jr. in Inception (and also appeared in Nolan’s Batman Begins – established relationship!) and he was good, but I can’t help but wonder if he could have made a better Cobb. In 28 Days Later he convincingly played a man who was coping with loss, a massive change of environment (i.e. zombie/Rage apocalypse), an altered reality and a yearning for family – all of which are relavent themes in Inception. With his range and unique body of work (not to mention his ability to yield more than one facial expression), I think that he would have been a more interesting and complex choice than Leo.
- Jake Weber – Mr. Weber is my Wild Card choice. You may not recognize him, but he left a memorable impression on me in Zack Snyder’s remake, Dawn of the Dead. Sure, DotD wasn’t all that great a film (though the first 15 minutes were some of the most thrilling and tense I have ever seen, BELIEVE) but Weber’s performance elevated the film whenever he was on-screen. As Michael, he took on a leadership role among a group of survivors that had only just met – he conveyed intelligence, authority and gained trust among the group quickly, as was necessary. He was so convincing, I would have listened to him and trusted him (something I didn’t feel at all with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb – which is worth noting. If I get dream-shivved in the stomach by a projection of your dead ex-wife, you are going to have to do some fancy shit to convince me to work for you - giving me The Squint just isn’t going to cut it) and when you learn that Michael had a family that didn’t survive him, the reveal has a poignant emotional resonance that was very unexpected – that kind of underplayed subtlety would have been so welcome in Inception. And nary a Brooding Squint in sight.