To the most pointless, banal and self-indulgent blogpost to ever come out of this pointless, banal and self-indulgent blog. But hey, it’s what you come here for.
This was something I started for fun a little while ago, meaning to share it a lot earlier – before Legion was published, almost certainly – but never saw the light of day by virtue of the fact I couldn’t be arsed to think too hard about it.
But as they say, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish when you’re meant to be doing something else, and if anything it’s quite an interesting exercise to think about my characters, so here we are. Here’s who I’d cast in each prominent role if my humble little tome ever made it to the big or small screen. I tried to stay away from absolute A list celebrities, simply because so many of them play ‘archetypes’ – or at least, are perceived to do so by the public – and I didn’t want the actors to overshadow the characters they’re playing, if that makes sense. But here we go.
(And, before anyone starts whinging about certain choices, a) the Ancient Romans, while certainly xenophobic, had no colour-based concept of race as we know it, b) the Roman conquests spread people of different ethnicities, often unwillingly, throughout several climes of the Empire, and c) in this fantasyland of authorial success I can cast whomsoever the fuck I please, without ill-informed Culture Warriors™ on Twitter whining about identity politics and the perils of enforced representation).
So with that depressingly necessary disclaimer aside, let’s get down to it.
Sertor Orbus – Con O’Neill
It’s probably ironic that the most central character in the story – and the one who has lived rent-free in my head the longest – is actually one of the hardest ones I found to put a face to, simply because I never really had a solid image of him in my head. It’s why I was so adamant that I didn’t want his face to be on the cover of the book. To me, Orbus is just this… melange. This blurry aura of grit, melancholia, self-loathing, heroic defiance and self-destructive masculinity that is never going to see thirty-five again.
Accordingly, though he starts this list, Orbus was one of the last people I ended up casting, though once I’d settled on my choice I found it hard to picture anyone else. Con O’Neill is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated actors this country’s ever produced, and when I think about everything I’ve seen him in – Happy Valley, Ordinary Lies, Uncle, Our Flag Means Death, both his equally murderous spells in the Morsiverse and most recently The Batman – I’m more than happy with my choice.
The best part is, for the first two or three novels you’d only have to digitally de-age him a fraction. After that, he’s pretty much exactly the right age and shape for the role.
Iulus Cascana – Luke Norris
In stark contrast to his Praefectorial partner in crime, this was an actor who popped into my head fairly instinctively, as soon as I described the ‘crisp young man in Centurion’s garb’ who enters the story in the very first Chapter. Reserved, professional to a fault, unfailingly and unstintingly polite in a way that irritates as much as it charms… this man is Cascana down to a tee. Truth be told I haven’t seen him in anything that isn’t Poldark, but that was enough for me to make my decision.
Decius Urbanus – Hugh Quarshie
I’ve been a shameless Holby City fan for about 8 years (and my rage at its sudden cancellation still, still hasn’t faded) and I’m happy to admit that is 95% of what’s behind this choice. Ric Griffin was such an iconic character on our screens for so many years as we watched him age before our eyes with sickening grace. In his later seasons, he trod the line between noble front-line general and cantankerous old grandad with a perfect mix of charm and gravitas, and in the next couple of novels, when Legate Urbanus gets a chance to show off his heroic side quite a bit more, there’s no-one else I could picture leading the XII Legion.
Titus Argias – Daniel Kaluuya
Another one that I didn’t choose right away, but when the face popped into my head it felt like a remarkably easy fit. If you want earnest, zealous, likeable, and a sense of charm that can be puppyish or naïve depending on where you’re standing, Mr Kaluuya would definitely fill the Argias-shaped whole in my fancast. Black Panther and Get Out made him an international star – quite deservedly – but I’ve always been a fan of some of his earlier work, such as Johnny English Reborn and his Doctor Who cameo.
Sextus Orbus – Jason Flemyng
When it came down to picking the second Orbus brother I always knew it would be someone, both physically and in terms of performance style, who would be fairly similar to dear old Con, and indeed Jason here had been one of the names who ran through my head for Sertor. I think he could have played either brother equally well, to be honest; open, affable, yet with enough charisma to imply a host of hidden secrets. Primeval was one of the shows that defined my childhood – indeed, a slightly younger Douglas Henshall was another close contender to be Sertor – but anyone who watched Boiling Point more recently will know what a slippery fucker Flemyng can be when he really tries. That’s range for you.
Merope – Nina Sosanya
Nina’s just one of those actors who’s been in everything – literally everything – though the two performances of hers that stayed with me were Doctor Who and Lewis. In each one she had a very understated reservedness (fuck you dictionary, that’s a word) that somehow held attention rather than sinking beneath it, and that’s something I can definitely see in Merope (quite fittingly, given the arc she goes through in the novel). Also, for anyone who hasn’t already seen Staged, I implore you to seek it out. Nina’s role will have you in stitches.
Sallus Thracian – Max Beesley
Anyone who’s seen either Suits or Hustle will know exactly why I chose Max for this role; indeed, this was another instance where I knew almost instantly who I’d go for. What can I say, the man plays villains – or, perhaps, could-be villains – so damn well. Thracian is one of those characters whose menace grows the more the reader – or indeed, the other characters – project their suspicions onto him, and Max does intrigue very well; albeit without becoming less three-dimensional. In Ordinary Lies he does softness surprisingly well, and in Survivors he managed to be a rounded character while committing quite a few cold-blooded murders.
Gaius Civilius Optatis – Lee Ingleby
Again, not the first face that came to mind when I thought about the character, but when it did, it was hard to picture anyone else. There’s not much I can really say about Mr Ingleby to be honest, as his rather extensive portfolio of acting credits does the talking for him. The man’s range is insane… he’s played creeps, murderers, the detectives that put them away, and so much in between. I think it was his performance in Criminal though that really sold me on him for Optatis – the underplayed, softly-spoken, put upon but still incorrigible DI Myerscough is just the sort of character I could picture following Orbus around, and silently putting up with all his bullshit.
Aemilia Volscania – Joanne Froggatt
Aemilia was one of the final people I cast, as, like Orbus himself, she wasn’t someone I had a particularly clear picture of in my head as much as an ‘aura’ of various traits. I have some vague memories of Joanne being pretty impressive in Downton Abbey, but I think it was her role in Liar that helped me make up my mind for her as Aemilia. She’s one of those characters that I didn’t get to particularly delve into in Legion, so there’s not a lot more I can say to back this up. For now…
…And anyway, on that note I think I will bid you all goodnight. This post has become way longer than I intended, and I still have several more characters to go, so I think I’m going to split this into two parts.
Thrilling times, to be sure.
Check back in a few days for Part Two xx