Casting the Uncastable Adaptation: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

Jeremy Renner, Liam Neeson/Photos © Featureflash/DFree/Shutterstock
Jeremy Renner, Liam Neeson/Photos © Featureflash/DFree/Shutterstock

Have a conversation with any well-read film buff about unfilmable books, and one novel is sure to come up: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West. And with good reason: It would be a damn-near impossible task to do it theatrical justice.

Every few years, a Hollywood director will take an interest in bringing the book to theaters before inevitably throwing in the towel. Most recently, James Franco joined Todd Field and Ridley Scott in the list of directors who’ve given up on adapting the epic Western. And who can blame them? Unlike McCarthy’s other books that have been turned into award-winning adaptations – like All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country For Old MenBlood Meridian is not camera-friendly.

For starters, it’s violent as all hell. To which, you may be thinking, “But No Country for Old Men is violent. It features a man killing a cop point blank with a cattle gun!” While the Coen Brothers did a commendably flawless job of adapting No Country for Old Men for the silver screen, Blood Meridian makes No Country look like a “Finding Nemo” sequel. Scalpings and savagery abound throughout Blood Meridian, but what’s amazing is how breathtakingly poetic McCarthy portrays the violence. It is so jaw-droppingly shocking and vivid that it would be difficult to capture for theatergoers. Not convinced? By all means, put down your lunch and try this paragraph on:

All about her the dead lay with their peeled skulls like polyps bluely wet or luminescent melons cooling on some mesa of the moon. In the days to come the frail black rebuses of blood in those sands would crack and break and drift away so that in the circuit of few suns all trace of the destruction of these people would be erased.

But perhaps the biggest contributor to the book’s unfilmable nature is its cast of characters. Blood Meridian offers a long list of hard-to-cast roles. But if there’s anything Hollywood has shown us time and time again, it’s that “unfilmable” is just one of those industry buzz words with no meaning like “unnecessary reboot” or “superhero movie overload.” So here is a list of would-be actors if the book ever meets the box office.

The Kid: Kodi Smit-McPhee
The novel’s main character, the kid, is meant to be in his mid-teens. “He is not big but he has big wrists, big hands ... the eyes oddly innocent.” It’s a pointless exercise to try to cast him since any current age-appropriate actors will likely have kids of their own by the time the film sees the light of day. But were it filmed tomorrow, Kodi Smit-McPhee might be able to fill the role. He played the boy in the film adaption of McCarthy’s The Road and is now sixteen.

Judge Holden: Liam Neeson
The novel’s most iconic character, Judge Holden, is almost supernatural. Holden is described as being seven feet tall and hairless and has a penchant for violence. Although a few inches shy of seven feet, Liam Neeson is certainly imposing enough to play the terrifying yet pensive character.

Benjamin Tobin: Bryan Cranston
Who better to play an ex-priest who turns to a life of crime than Bryan Cranston? His Emmy-winning portrayal of the chemistry teacher-turned-meth-dealer, Walter White, in “Breaking Bad” makes him a perfect match for Tobin.

John Joel Glanton: Brad Pitt
Glanton leads a gang of scalphunters through the Western plains. Who else have we seen lead a band of men motivated by bounties for scalps? Ah yes, Brad Pitt in his unforgettable “Inglourious Basterds” role as “Nah-tzee scalp” hunter, Lt. Aldo Raine.

Louis Toadvine: Sam Rockwell
Toadvine is a role that requires grit. On a behavioral level, he’s a veteran outlaw and brawler. And physically, he’s got no ears and the letters “H.T.” branded on his forehead. Few in Hollywood have the grit to pull it off like Sam Rockwell.

Captain White: Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner could play an American soldier in any time period. You could send him into the year 3000 or back to 1850 and he’ll still fit in. He’s just got that soldier look about him.

David Brown: Ben Foster
Brown is a ruthless and unpredictable member of Glanton’s gang. In just about every movie he’s done, from “30 Days of Night” to “The Mechanic,” Ben Foster has played ruthless and unpredictable characters. And in “3:10 to Yuma,” he proved he can play the heck out of a badass Old West bandit.

So, how did we do? What would you do differently? And is a big-screen adaptation of Blood Meridian simply impossible?

  • Dee Mack

    Clearly, the "biggest" challenge would be casting the Judge. I think it would almost have to be an unknown actor. Someone willing to shave their entire body. Must be huge, but not necessarily ripped. The key would be his demeanor, affect, and presence. In short, his acting skills, which would need to be sift officiant. A giant Marlon Brando. I'm not sure such a man exists.

    • Stix Mann

      Gary Farmer.

    • TM

      Phillip Seymour Dodd, who plays the title character in The Master, could play the Judge. Different character, but see the movie and you will agree. Huge, commanding, frightening, spiritual, compelling, can dance.

    • Marlon Brando will be the perfect Holden as he is the greatest actor ever, but since he is not around the only one I can think of to be Holden is TOM HARDY. No other actor has today his physical strength, mass, brutality and huge talent.
      The best novel of the XX century deserves the best actor of the XXI century.

      • Reed

        Except Tom Hardy is fairly short.

    • You speak words as if they'd come out of my very own mouth. It would HAVE to be an unknown actor; someone who could come roaring in and do the Judge Holden role true theatrical justice. Think of how Christoph Waltz seemed to come seemingly 'from nowhere' in Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds'. It would have to be someone who would have THAT kind of shock-value, but accurately present the well-described physical and psychological attributes of the Judge. The hunt is on !

    • sam the man

      Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the judge,

      • austin

        Judge: Christopher Heyerdahl

        • arsattar

          Might not have the necessary acting skills that are required to play the role of Judge, but Glenn Jacobs aka Kane has the perfect look to play him.

          • Jeremy

            What's funny is John Hillcoat looks like The Judge. At least in my mind. He can certainly direct, I wonder if he can act too?!!

  • MATT

    this is the worst cast for anything i've ever seen in my life and it's obvious you haven't read the damn book.

    • dan

      i agree with matt. liam bloody neeson? as the judge?? you cant be serious? hes not worthy. brando certainly! so an unknown would be best. an unknown actor 7 ft tall with no body hair and a huge pale dome of a head that can speak dutch and sketch and dance and never die. BM is my favourite book and i shudder at the thought of some moron tarnishing its reputation with some money grabbing adaption. nicolas winding refyn would have a good go at directing. but paul thomas anderson would be my choice.

      • steve


      • Maria

        Oh just get Daniel Day-Lewis to play the Judge already and be done with it.

        He could totally do it and leave us weeping.

        • Albathin

          Watch Nicholas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" to understand why he should direct Blood Meridian.

          • Tim Parker

            I love that movie. . .

    • nick

      I feel like he typecast this entire list of actors.

  • Seems to me the violence in NO COUNTRY was toned down a lot for the movie. A faithful screen version of the novel would have risked becoming farce.

    • You thought No Country for Old Men was toned down? If I remember correctly, it was nearly line for line and word for word adapted from the book.

      Anyway, I love how defensive people get about Blood Meridian casting choices. Us McCarthy fans sure are passionate. I've never been able to think up someone who could pull off the Judge, but I'm sure there is someone out there. I love both the ideas of Sam Rockwell (perfect choice) and Bryan Cranston that you have.

      Hmm, the Judge. I'm blanking. If only Tom Hardy were taller!

      • bdGrow

        David Morse as the Judge. Wasn't No Country written with the intent of the Bros making a movie from it.......

      • will

        Woody Harrelson as the Judge. He can probably dance

        • greg

          Christopher Heyerdahl as the Judge. Check him out in Hell on Wheels.

  • Scott

    Pointless. Books are for thinking and discerning people. Movies are for hackneyed, drooling, stupefied tools. This is a book, not a movie and should remain so.

    • Dr. Gonzo

      "Movies are for hackneyed, drooling, stupefied tools." Ever seen a Sergio Leone movie? Or John Ford´s The Searchers? Now that´s an unfounded, radical opinion if I´ve ever seen one

  • klaatu

    I always pictured Ed Harris as Judge Holden because of his role's in History of Violence, and Just Cause. Hook him up with a Hollywood trainer, and apply some careful camera work. Perfect.

  • caleb m

    I always pictured Vincent D'onofrio as the Judge. He's big, not buff, and would look incredibly frightening without any hair at all.

    OR possibly John Malkovich? both are compelling on screen - you can't take your eyes off them. And both can be very scary.

    • Alexis

      There are a lot of mean and negative comments here- many of you are elitist snobs! But you, you have the right idea- fucking Vincent D'Onofrio is IT. bravo!!! I also agree with Sam Rockwell, he's brilliant.
      Overall, this is a wish and a prayer, this book being adapted- and many will not agree but Nick Cave should have something to do with the screenplay adaptation. He's notoriously poetic and dark. The Proposition? C'mon. And his book And the Ass Saw the Angel- well whomever has been lucky enough to read it MAY agree.

  • I think Brad Pitt would make a great Glanton but the Liam Neeson is riding way too high at the moment.

    While he can ape at being brooding his accent betrays him.

    Ralph Fiennes would be my choice for The Judge. Imagine him with all of his intensity delivering his fireside sermons. Whilst not as physical as Neeson, his turns in Red Dragon and In Bruges show how well malevolence and calculating violence can suit him

  • Frode Graadahl

    If I were to cast Blood Meridian, I'd pick these fellas:

    The Kid - Joseph Gordon Levitt
    Judge Holden - Rutger Hauer
    Glanton - Gary Oldman
    Toadvine - Charlie Hunnam
    Captain White - Guy Pearce
    Tobin - John Hurt
    David Brown - Kevin Gage
    White Jackson - Danny Huston
    Black Jackson - Michael K. Williams
    The Idiot - Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team)
    Sproule - Richard Wilson (The Proposition)
    Grannyrat - Garret Dillahunt
    Bathcat - Tim Roth

    As for the too old/too young, too thin/too fat, too tall/too short, there's amazing what can be achieved with prostetic effects these days.
    But as to whom should direct the thing...? John Hillcoat.

    • Alexis

      Can't stand JG Levitt but you're reminding me that Tom Hardy is the SHIT. Who would he play? Sharlton Copely YES, Tim Roth YES- whomever said Idris Elba, fucking YES. Jackie Earl Haley is no-brainier for Toadvine, and Ian McShane, John Goodman (thinking of Barton Fink), JK Simmons, and Garrett Dillahunt would all need a place 🙂 Good thinking people!

    • Kyle Harris

      Danny Huston...The Judge after seeing him in the Proposition and 30 days of night his dominating tone and the evilness he brings to his roles would make him great. He is 6'2 but camera magic folks....

  • Xian

    First off, I'd have John Hillcoat directed it from a script adaptation by Nick Cave... with music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. That'd be a great start. If John Hillcoat passes, get Andrew Dominik to direct.

    As for casting... why go with cliches and established actors like Liam Neeson? He's a fine actor, though he's cashing paychecks lately it seems, but he's simply played too many iconic characters, and frankly he seems to old to play Judge Holden, who I always imagined as a pudgy baby of indeterminate age (perhaps get John Carroll Lynch, he'd be perfect... He's got a "that guy" quality that everyone knows, but could easily make the character of Judge Holden enigmatic, scary and when appropriate, downright evil.

    On that note, other character actors could be cast (I like the idea of Kodi Smit-McPhee, but think other name actors should be left out), but the more "character" the face of the actor, the better... and please, for the love of Zod, cast REAL Mexicans in the movie and not some Americanized idea of what a Mexican should look or act like. Oh, and... make all casting age appropriate to the book... no need to make this The WB's "Blood Meridian" (might as well add frickin' vampires at that point).

    There's still a huge misconception among studio execs and critics that somehow name actors can open a movie and give it legs... this really isn't true any longer, and in my opinion, unless the script and director are solid, you can have top-notch actors and not even come close to having made a great movie.

    Take a look at TV series (via cable) such as Deadwood... hardly a "big name" among the cast... mostly American and British unknowns or barely-knowns, and a great heap of character actors. Again, take a look at films like John Hillcoat's "The Proposition" and Andrew Dominik's "Assassination of Jesse James..." for ways to do Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece right on screen.

    • Ed

      plus 1. I've just read the book and was blown away. All the way through I was thinking how it really deserves a film in the style of 'The Proposition', 'The Road' and 'The Assassination'. With Cave and Ellis doing music, Cave's hands all over it, let's give him a cameo too

  • Liam Neeson as Judge Holden? No. He's too big screen and with an admirable screen presence like Harrison Ford. Judge Holden is a fascinating character but he's meant to be completely unlikable. And he's a...well I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it. Mickey Rourk, however, could play this role for sure! My vote goes to Rourk as Judge Holden.

    • Kyle Harris

      Danny Huston hands down...

  • Painted Flags

    Borrowing yet again from another McCarthy adaptation, Javier Bardem as the Judge. While he may not be 7 foot tall white man, his demeanor in No Country For Old Men resembles quite closely what the Judge is. I'd have Brendan Gleeson as Toadvine, and Mandy Patinkin as Tobin.

  • Angie

    I love all CM's books. The Judge, for me, should look a little like Dick Cheney in his face and eyes and his body should be big like John Wayne's. I always pictured the Judge as kind of a pink person, not quite Albino, but fair. I can't think of anyone famous that would make a good Judge. Also I don't think it is a good idea for directors to always use famous actors. I prefer to see new faces and talents that actually bring the book to life. I am not sure it is possible to make this book into a movie. I love it so much I almost wish people would leave it alone lest they corrupt it.

    • Hugh W. Stinnette

      "kind of a pink person, not quite Albino" Phillip Seymour Hoffman - who else looks like this AND has the acting chops, the audacity, to convincingly play the judge. Forced perspective (ala "Lord of the Rings") will handle the height.
      As important, if not maybe moreso, is who would direct? My two nominees would be David Fincher or Quentin Tarantino. Fincher has that fierce intelligence to grasp and convey, articulate, the dramatic essence of the book ("Social Network" anyone?) that is absolutely necessary to adapt this masterpiece. And Tarantino has the writer's ear to convey the powtic force of the novel.
      These two choices must be rock solid; everything else will fall into place.

  • Dan Blossom

    The Judge? Rade Serbedzija comes to mind

    • Dan Blossom

      Maybe not. Just watched his scene in Eyes Wide Shut and he was only about three inches taller the TC

  • steve

    I think the violence can (and should) be played to the fullest. Any adaptation would be a joke without it.
    And lets face it, I saw Piranha where a girl was scalped by a boat motor and another was slashed in half diagonally by a swinging cable, and these were played for laughs! Certainly we can handle the same in service of the disturbing dramatic effect intended by CM.
    As far as this fantasy casting... I don't agree with any of it. Of course you're not going to find a hairless 7 foot unhinged genius actor, so basically you just have to find the unhinged genius and let the production worry about the rest. Brando was like 52 and nuts when he did Kurtz. I'd say maybe Sizemore is the closest we've got to an off-the-rails 50 something with the chops (and the bloated-ness) to pull it off.

  • Zack

    Sam Rockwell is an interesting choice for Toadvine, where I would have leant toward Danny Trejo. Most of your choices are based solely on typecasting and trying to fit characters already out there to match the characters in the book.... Liam Neeson is about the farthest choice from the Judge that I would pick. How about a Mickey Rourke? I think he would be down with going full-bald and he's got the quiet menacing bit down.

    I think that the Kid should be an unknown, also, and that Brad Pitt shouldn't have more than a cameo.

  • As an avid rabid fan of this book I'd like to add my two cents.

    John Joel Glanton - I totally agree Brad Pitt. Pitt can throw himself so deep into a role that your suspension of disbelief kicks in almost immediately, and he is that character. Glanton and all his duplicity would be in very capable hands.

    Louis Toadvine - Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It would take an actor with some serious range to pull of the complex moral balance going on in Toadvine throughout the novel while still keeping his overall weirdness, and gruffness. Toadvine is older and more experienced than "the kid" but not as long in the tooth as much of the Glanton gang, this would be another great role for Gordon-Levitt who has been holding his own in some great material. I think he could really pull it off.

    Benjamin Tobin, or "the expriest" - Tom Wilkinson. Tobin's the eldest member of the Glanton gang, an ex-priest, and still tolerable to violence. I think Cranston is good, but wouldn't be as believable if he had to be prosthetically aged into this role. Wilkinson has been able to play protagonist and antagonist. To me this is a no brainer; Wilkinson would be a great Tobin, hands down.

    Captain White, or "the captain" - Jerry O'Connell. I know sounds like a weird choice for such an important film adaptation; but think about it (once you read the book), this is not a very likeable character, but he also needs to have a certain "all American" aesthetic to him, and be believable as someone who would thrive in a military setting given the time. It would be a daring choice to put O'Connell in this role, but something about him just screams Captain White to me, and I think the movie going audience would be satisfied to see the events of this character played out by someone like him.

    John Jackson (white) Walton Goggins - If you don't know who this is you haven't seen either of the best 2 television shows of the last decade. Goggins played the complicated and eventually morally bankrupt Detective Shane Vendrell on the smash hit FX series "The Shield" a show that single-handedly made basic-cable networks a viable outlet for quality programs that would have otherwise been shelved by major networks. He also played former white supremacist leader Boyd Crowder on the brilliant television show "Justified." With dozens of capably handled yet diverse roles, and genuine southern roots, Goggins would be another great lock for this casting.

    John Jackson (black) - Idris Elba. Another great actor whose name doesn't just drop at first thought is Idris Elba. In reality he is both comedically and dramatically a fine actor who can capably handle any variety of character roles, and would be a great foil for the other John Jackson

    David Brown - Todd Lowe - Another TV actor whose time has come is Todd Lowe, after years of various minor roles in TV and Film, he was a breakout star on the show "Gilmore Girls" as musician Zack Van Gerbig, and more recently does an amazing job with what would otherwise be a forgettable role on the wildly popular HBO drama "True Blood." His Texas roots would lend an authenticity to the character and the multi-layered performance he shows as the PTSD afflicted Iraq war vet Terry Bellefleur on True Blood is probably some of the best acting on an otherwise ridiculous show.

    The Judge - Brendan Gleeson. This rol a huge challenge for any actor, and Gleeson who has shown amazing range in all of his supporting roles, fits many of the physical attributes needed to fill the very big shoes of the character. I beleive that with he may be one of the few actors capable enough to pull off the gravitas that the Judge holds, and in my opinion he is one of the finest actors of our generation. Really he is the only actor I can imagine doing justice as the Judge.

    • Alexis

      Yes! B Gleeson! I just wrote that a minute ago! He is just fantastic.

  • ..and finally

    The Kid - Charlie Rowe. The Kid is roughly fifteen/sixteen throughout most of the novel, usually Hollywood hires actors in their early twenties to portray mid-teens, I think with this material it would be a mistake not to physically show the vast contrast between the kid and the judge. There is a year old British actor named Charlie Rowe, who I think fits the physical characteristics needed for the role. Based on what I've seen of his work in the 2010 feature "Never Let Me Go" and 2007's Golden Compass he may just have the chops to pull it off, depending on his skill at changing speech patterns and accents. Other than Rowe I would think this role is probably best filled with a capable an unknown actor 14-17 years old. Although there are many fine young looking 20-somethings, keeping "the kid" as a kid would help keep the mood of the story intact.

  • Alex

    Okay, I've really thought about this one before, here we go:-

    The Kid: Ezra Miller

    Judge Holden: James Gandolfini

    Joel Glanton: Ian Mcshane

    Toadvine: Jackie Earl Haley

    Captain White: JK. Simmons

    Brown: W. Earl Brown

  • T.J.

    I'm not the first to say it, so credit to Roger Ebert, but aside from lucking out and finding some perfect total unknown, Tom Noonan is the best and only option to play The Judge. He's a physically imposing, terrifying sight who could easily match the description, a phenomenal actor, and doesn't have the baggage that Neeson does particularly in the latter's last few years where he's devolved into an action star.

    The boy should be an unknown (teenage Lukas Haas would have worked) and otherwise you're just typecasting to such an extent that you're having actors play roles really similar to parts they've already played, which is boring for the actor and the audience. Rockwell is the only inspired choice on your list.

  • Gosie R. Meston

    No way you can have a half decent adaptation with Liam Neeson as the Judge. Don't know, maybe a John Sharian-esque in The Machinist type. But definitely not Neeson. Wouldn't pay a ticket to see that.

  • roman

    Roger Ebert once wrote that his dream choice to play Judge Holden is Tom Noonan. I think that'd be just about perfect.

    • Son of Griff


    • stephs

      The Judge: Tom Noonan!

  • Bill

    The only Holden I can imagine is daniel day lewis, given the "Hobbit" effect in reverse and after gaining 40 pounds.

  • terrall


    The Coen brothers did a remarkable job with No Country for Old Men. But BM is of a different kind entirely.

    Sometimes it's best to just leave well enough alone. In this case, it's an insult to even try.

  • Carolyn Shank

    The challenge of doing in pictures what has been done in words and is said to be impossible is perhaps what spurs these producers on... I personally don't believe anyone can do total justice to William Faulkner, but it will be attempted. I have read ALL of Cormac's books... and I feel that to attempt to turn them into film produces the mood, and the plot, but its product is a different entity than the author's book. That doesn't make it any less a piece of art. It just makes it a copy of a piece of art.

  • Nate

    It's unfilmable because the magic of the book is it's language, not it's story. Film simply doesn't have the language to match the prose In Blood Meridian. No Country and The Road were filmable because the stories and characters were fascinating. Woody Harelson might pull off the judge, if anyone, but it would be pointless.

  • CGG

    I picture Woody Harrelson as The Judge whenever I reread portions of Blood Meridian. I think he would be perfect for the role.

  • Jacob g

    As I read the book I pictured Peter Boyle, or yes, Brando, as the Judge. Anyone can adapt any story to make a film. What's tricky is making a Good film. The coen bros performed a miracle with no country, but what makes blood meridian good as a work of literature is exactly what can't be translated into a visual medium. One thing the article forgot to mention is that the plot is winding and anarchic. They already made this film, it's called Cannibal Holocaust and it sucked.

  • dale cosper

    BLOOD MERIDIAN is a VISUAL novel (just consider the subtitle). I rather liked ALL THE PRETTY HORSES as a movie, although the VISUAL part of that novel was neglected (think of the cinematographic possibilities of John Grady Cole at the beginning of the novel out on the Comanche Trace, and then the image of the sad Indian group and the bull throwing dirt into the sunset at the end: the film used none of this!) I like Terry Malik to do this film; he is the only one I can think of who can do the visuals justice. I know, I know. 🙂 You'd want Cormac as consultant and you'd want to use my brother (Skip)'s script. Just sayin'. I like John Goodman for the judge and Brad Pitt as Toadvine (remember Kalifornia?) Tape back his ears: he can do it! The kid is the hardest, I think. The combination of in-bred violence (he killed his papa before he left home, and fought his way West!) and innocence (the Judge is disappointed in his lack of blood-lust) would be hard to cast: any other suggestions? Dale

  • dale cosper

    BTW: My brother, Skip Cosper, was Malik's first assistant on DAYS OF HEAVEN and THE THIN RED LINE, and he is a HUGE and very knowledgeable Cormac afficinado (he's written three screen plays based on his novels.) He would be a good influence on Terry. 🙂

  • Buzz Fledderjohn

    Liam Neeson as the Judge. Lame.

    John Malcovich has played many a hulking strongman, could easily pull off hairless, and can do weirdo genius psychopath in his sleep. Same with Vincent D'Onfrio. Alas, both may be too old now.

    If Tom Hardy was a foot taller....

  • Brian

    This is probably an odd choice, but I always thought Brad Garrett (the older brother in Everybody Loves Raymond) would be an awesome choice for Judge Holden - assuming he can do more than comedy. The guy is charismatic, over-the-top, and imposing as hell. I would prefer someone who looks the part, as opposed to a "great actor" who they have to give an appearance of massiveness by using camera manipulation.

  • Brogan

    I was going to suggest Tom Noonan for the judge. To me, he's the only choice. I didn't know that Ebert suggested it too.

  • Shane Pellerin

    They should animate it, not make a live action movie.

  • Rob Bingham

    Can't disagree more with those who say this is unfilmable. Blood Meridian is one of the most beautifully cinematic novels I've ever read. It could be a spectacular film. Think of what Stephen Spielberg did with the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan (the confusion, the surreality of the battle imagery -- a guy with a flame thrower bursting into flames, another walking dazed holding his severed arm, etc.)

    Not saying Spielberg should direct it, but let's face it. Cinema is capable of taking us to some pretty violent, visceral, strange, unexpected places. If I were a filmmaker I'd be salivating over the imagery in Blood Meridian (maybe that's a bad word 🙂 -- the Comanche assault, the dead baby tree, the Judge.... It could be done, and if done right it could be brilliant.

    Don't let the bibliophiles say it can't be filmed. McCarthy is not Joyce, and Blood Meridian is not Ulysses (a purely literary piece of art).

  • Blake

    Am I the only person who thinks Philip Seymour Hoffman would be the perfect Judge Holden? Shave him bald and have him lift weights for twelve months and let the camera work worry about how tall he looks, but I can't imagine a better babyfaced, pale, scary good actor.

  • For the Judge I could picture a bald John Goodman. He can be an imposing figure when he wants to be. I honestly feel he could summon up the gravitas for the part. I'd definitely throw Glen Moreshower into the mix as well. Perhaps as Glanton.

  • Brad

    Jeffrey Jones to play Judge Holden. Booooom! Done. Sign him up and shoot the damn thing.

  • Alexis

    Brendan Gleeson as the Judge? Or is he too tender? I know he could pull it off though.

  • max

    Does anyone else think there's a jolly aspect to the judge? A terrifying jolliness? Think of his dancing around, fiddling, etc. The only person I can think of to play him would be Orson Welles--he had the right kind of grin and old-fashioned charm, spoke with such perfect diction, and could easily have been made to look huge. We need a new Orson Welles.

  • Couldn't agree with Matt more.

  • Ruth

    It's been a couple years since I last read Blood Meridian. I view it as rather unfilmable, or a very risky indie project if undertaken.

    I also imagined Brando when reading it. Tom Noonan has been a long standing ideal as well. Maybe if Rourke hadnt screwed his face, he would be ideal as well.

    There are a few Orson Welles lookalikes in Hollywood, like the guy that played him in the recent biopic, and the guy that was in the early seasons of Mad Men. That sort of look would work for me. And, not focusing on the look, Russell Crowe could pull it off. Although I get the feeling an english actor would be chosen for the role.

    I could imagine Mads Mikkelson playing someone.

  • foy tootle

    Having authored several academic papers on this book, as well as being an actor and a fan violent western film, I have often given this dilemma consideration. The Judge is the key. While, I have enjoyed Liam Neeson in just about every film in which I have seen him perform, but the physicality of Judge Holden is a component of his Mythos, his suzerain persona. The Judge is HUGE and completely bald, otherworldly in appearance. He must, for a solid adaptation, completely dominate any scene in which he is included. While some of this can be accomplished with make-up and costumes, not all can be created artificially. I would love to see a nation/worldwide search for this actor---open casting calls etc.

    As for directors--John Hilcoat is the man for the job. And the adaptation must include the Comanche attack, the church, and the tree "hung with dead babies."

    • Lawrence Johnson

      You're exactly right, Foy!

  • Sunshine Smith

    Agree with this write up. Would be very difficult to do the novel justice. But if one were to cast this work of Cormac's, I think Daniel Day Lewis would be the only actor that could pull off the Judge. Liam Neeson is a good suggestion, but a distant second or third at most.

  • Angie

    Danny Huston as the Judge.

  • Lawrence Johnson

    I thought Tommy Lee Jones had the rights to BM for awhile. Anyway, a bearded, slovenly Tommy Lee Jones should play Glanton. An unknown giant should play the Judge. The rest can be picked from wherever you want. A giant Marlon Brando would have been perfect as the Judge, though. The book can be filmed but it would have to be relentless in following the narrative and violence. Real Indians, real Mexicans required.

  • Sheepcat

    Rank snobbery aside it seems to me that any story is adaptable, McCarthys book is actually a pretty standard narative tale, it is just very poetic.

    The best way to film this story as far as I can imagine is to not even attempt to make the film seem poetic and thoughtful, just film the story in gut wrenching visceral glory.

    I hate movies that try to tell you how to feel about them, just film the damn thing and let the actors and the plot allow me to feel what I want to.

    As for casting, think outside the box, John C Riley is a shockingly underated dramatic actor. Kevin Durand is a giant scary looking dude who I would love to see doing something more serious exactly like this. The key thing though is the skill of the actor and here Daniel Day Lewis is second to none, I don't think he could beat up my 8 year old in real life but he can't half act hard!

  • Joe

    Whenever I read a book my mind attaches a mental image of what the characters look like very early...and for some reason the character I keep picturing the Judge as TOM NOONAN

    He played The Ripper in the movie "The Last Action Hero" and he also had a bit part in the movie "Heat" with Robert Deniro. He is tall gaunt and bald man who can capture the creepiness and unabashed evil of the Judge.

    Also if you want to see the vain in which this movie should be produced, see "Valhalla Rising"

  • Boonslick

    The only one who could do the judge justice is Ray Winstone.

    • JaCostello

      I don't know where to start. Ray Winstone for Judge Holden? Too fat and too old. The actor playing him would have to look lean so as to convey added height since there aren't any actors out there around 7 foot. The only person on the planet i can think of with the right dimension is Nikolai Valutin, a former Russian boxer: he's 7 feet tall, weighs almost 24 stone, is already bald and appreciates the arts (apparently he writes poetry). Don't think he speaks English and even if he did he'd do it with a hell of an accent. He does have some acting experience though.
      Alternatively you could have Michael Shannon, a great actor, not too famous, does a great line in sinister. He could also work as Glanton although he is very tall for that role.

      Sam Rockwell for Toadvine? I don;t think he's hell-raising enough, or dangerous-looking enough. Tom Hardy might suit that role better. As for the kid he'd have to be no older than 20 or he won't feel real. Same for the other actors, these were violent people in a violent time and not too many lived into their 60s so don't cast anyone that age. And i'd make sure they're all butt ugly, there shouldn't be any pretty boys in this film. Everything should be ugly except for the landscapes.

      Nicholas Winding Refn for director feels right, or Andrew Dominik or John Hillcoat. Guy Ritchie? Why not whoever did the last Fast & Furious movie? Or Chris Columbus for that matter.

  • walter penman

    Casting is not half the problem if you dont have a director who even understands the book or the script. Guy Ritchie is the only director with some edge who can understand the book well enoungh to do the film.

  • Holden could be played by one of the hulking brutes in the mma world. Say Fedor Emilianenko (a Russian accent wouldn't hurt) or Randy Couture (acting experience). Liam Neeson is big and can act. Shave him and paint him white. I think Hillcoat wasted the talents of Viggo in The Road and should not be considered. Nicholas Winding or whoever filmed Valkyrie Rising is the only director I know to direct Blood Meridian. A director that can put it down as it is with no moral, political, or social message.

  • Josh Blosh

    As I read Blood Meridian I always imagined Black Francis from the Pixies as Judge Holden. I will give him the part when I take on the project.

  • Mitch

    If this were twenty-five years ago, I would have said Gene Hackman as the judge. He's only 6'2", but he is such an imposing figure on the screen. If this had been 60 years ago, I'd say Orson Welles for the Judge! Alas, I think Tom Noonan, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Philip Seymour Hoffman would be the likely choices.

  • russell

    Judge: Woody Harrelson

    • horia.alecs

      Director: Martins Scorsese ( in Gangs of New York Style!)
      The Judge: finally Woody Harrelson.

  • Harry

    Daniel Day Lewis as Glanton (gangs of New York syle) and Phillp Seymor Hoffman as Juge Holden. directed by the Cohen brothers

  • Bob

    My vote: Clancy Brown

    The Kurgan, Sgt. Zim, Brother Justin...

    Smart, big man, always has an edge, can play charming and scary, he keeps you guessing.

  • Russ

    Holden: John Malcovich, Seymor Hoffman, or Ralph Finnes.
    Glanton: Sean Penn, Billy Crudup, or Tim Roth.
    The Kid(young):who cares.
    The Kid(old): Casey Affleck.

  • chris

    Christoper Walker = Judge

  • chris

    Christoper Walken* = Judge

  • Rosco

    From the first time I read BM I always pictured Nick Nolte as the Judge. Not sure what condition he's in these days though. But Tom Noonan is a great choice, never thought of that before.

    John Hawkes (Teardrop in Winter's Bone) would be a perfect Glanton.

  • john seymour

    It is highly unlikely that the Coen brothers will ever do another McCarthy novel. The director who does this has to be stronger than Ridley Scott which seems an expensive proposition for anyone producing the film. The rights seem to belong to T. Lee Jones, and no director can be found to be assigned this tough book. Not even clear if anyone could succeed at a script version of the book.

  • CarolM

    Without a doubt, Danny Houston as the judge. Apart from that a totally unknown cast and an unfliching director ( definately not a hollywood type). Saying that, and having read the book, not sure I would want to watch the film 🙂

    • Christian

      Sergio Leone would have done a great job directing this if he were still alive.

  • Nick

    The androgynous actor that played Satan in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Seven foot tool. No hair. That's what I picture when I read Blood Meridian, maybe not as gaunt. But I agree. Has to be an unknown. Liam Neeson would be the wrong guy. Even DD Lewis. This character is otherworldly, we need to see him as someone we've never seen on the screen before in another guise.

  • James Fredricks

    How would you ever be able to cast the rape scene at the end when the judge kills the kid, and who would want to act such a scene? The abuse/murder sequence of the kid would have no precedent in hollywood films.

  • Maximillion

    I would never go with this because I'm sure he's not the acting type, but whenever I read the novel I always pictured Kane from the WWE (the bald unmasked version). He's at least 7', has no hair, and is an extremely unpleasant looking fellow. Now, in casting for the movie, I can't say if I'd want him to because I've never seen him act (then again, he could totally be a great actor if given the chance, but I'm not putting money on it), but visually I think he would nail the part.

  • Hugh W. Stinnette

    To Hackman and Hoffman I would add Robert Duvall. After Holden's physicality is established we're going to need an actor ee can watch THINK. Hackman hasn't made a film since 2004 (he's 83), and Duval is right behind at 82. By the way John Malkovich could do it, but won't; he's to busy being John Malkovich.
    Even though we no longer have the greatest film actor we have his words: "The close-up says everything ... In a close-up, the audience is only inches away, and your face becomes the stage"; that where this performance will be played.
    You're going to need a great actor for Holden; the technicians will figure out how to convince he's 7 ft tall. Remember our utter acceptance of Armie Hammer's two "Winklevi"? They'll do the same of Holden, oncethey find the right ACTOR.

  • Jaes

    Judge Holden: Liam Neeson, are you on crack?

    The only man for that job is John C Reilly

    • JimJess

      Ron Perlman for Judge Holden.

    • jim

      yeah John C Reilly might do good! finally can agree to someone

  • Johnson Johnson

    When I read the book, I kept picturing (and hearing) Judge Holden as a Causasian James Earl Jones circa 1980. This isn't very helpful as I can't think of any current actors who fit that description. I guess I'd hope they find the right unknown guy and he knocks it out of the park.

  • stacyjo

    i hope it never becomes a film. I read each and every comment posted (96 of them) and I find the wide array of preferred actors fascinating, but there is an overall consensus: the Judge will never be properly portrayed by a mere mortal and using an A list actor cheapens the character. I hope that Blood Meridian never becomes a movie because it is such a treasure to be found and consumed by the reader. Although it is not my favorite of Cormac McCarthy's tales, I acknowledge its importance and feel it is too important to turn into a cheap Hollywood adaptation.

  • James Roy

    Absolutely filmable... unless you are a wimp. Bypass hollywood and shop Euro sources, American film centers on comic books... real literature like BM need to be lensed... would it make you anymore upset that Noe's "Irreversible?" The landscape/locations are a main character of BM and speak loudly of the actions of these terrific characters.

  • Mark

    The main article has some excellent suggestions for casting. Brad Pitt would be good as Glanton given his charisma. It worked for him as Jesse James. And he'd be an excellent 2nd banana who thinks he's 1st banana.

    For the Judge I would go with Stephen Fry.

    Phillip Seymore Hoffman is an excellent suggestion. He can do "intelligent and menacing" brilliantly.
    But Fry can simply look at you and be scary. What helps, I think, is that he's a comic actor.
    John C Reilly works for the same reason. He can be stone faced and there's a slight thrill of the silly there which can become creepy and surreal.
    And the Judge would have a surreal, otherworldly quality to him. In the world but not of it, and certainly contemptuous of it.

    You need someone who can do scathingly intellectual. I don't know if Reilly is up to that.

    Daniel Day Lewis is there with actors like Kevin Spacey. They can do anything, but you need someone who is very physical on the screen rather than internal.

    Mark Strong for example has a younger, evil Brando look to him but he doesn't have that demonic intellect look to him. Fanatic perhaps. But not a force unto himself.

    Patrick Stewart maybe (argue the point if you've seen him as Claudius).

    Brian Cox maybe better. He's recognizable without being typecast. I can see him delivering the "War is God" quote dead eyed.

    D’Onofrio would work, as would Hugo Weaving, if you haven't seen him lately, take a look. Both very physical actors, and Weaving can dance.

    The big problem is the director. You need someone who can handle violent, nihilistic and complex material. And without getting weird which means Werner Herzog or Terry Gilliam would have to rein it in a bit.

    Not only do I not know who could direct it now. I don't know who could ever have directed it. Jules Dassin? Jarmusch maybe? But Blood Meridian is so quintessentially American in character I don't think it would work.
    Friedkin is too old now.

    David Fincher would be my hail mary pick.

    But I have to throw in with the people who think it's unfilmable. There's too much beauty entwined with the uglyness in it to simplify into just visuals. Too much in the descriptive language. And narration would spoil it.
    Two films maybe. But there's no way that's going to be commercially successful.
    Can't be done.
    Or rather, it can't be done well.

  • Mike A.

    Everyone that says this movie is unable to be adapted to film is completely right. How could you ever show an audience a tree that had been impaled with dead babies? You couldn't. And yet, it's such an important omen for the dark days ahead of the men. To support some of the other posts here - I agree this initial casting list is garbage. Here are my three picks for the most important characters.

    Glanton - Josh Brolin: He's gritty, doesn't have to say much, and even seems like he may have scalped a few people in his day already.

    Judge Holden - John Goodman: Does he match the description of the judge perfectly? No. He is very large, would be convincing with a pale & hairless body, and most importantly, would be able to deliver The Judge's often twisted and 'philosophical' teachings to the men.

    The Kid - Logan Lerman: For some reason this is always kind of how I imagined picturing "The Kid". Lerman would probably need to go on a whisky binge and get in a couple fights to give his face some character beforehand but if toughened up a bit I think it would be good.

  • Joe
  • Noodle

    I disagree becuase I think the choices are too predictable. I mean, Jeremy Renner is plain dull, 100% of the time. The likes of Cranston and Foster have done enough roles of the sort you have cast them in. They'd do a good job, but it wouldn't be overly interesting. It's like putting Alan Rickman as a bad guy, or Christoph Waltz as the smooth one: it's been done.

    But the judge is the hardest one to cast.

    Is there any roll Daniel Day-Lewis can't pull off? If so maybe this one, simply because of the fact the Judge is 7ft tall!

  • Stijn

    Kid - a 15 year old Ezra Miller
    Holden - Tom Noonan
    Glanton - James Russo
    Tobin - Bryan Cranston
    Toadvine - Joseph Gilgun
    Brown - Kevin Gage
    Black Jackson - Jacky Ido
    White Jackson - Walton Goggins
    Bathcat - Ray Winstone
    Irving - Sam Shepard
    McGill - Luis Guzmán
    Webster - Sam Rockwell
    White - David Strathairn
    Idiot - Dallas Roberts

    End of discussion.

    • Stijn

      No, wait.

      Chambers - Christopher Fairbank
      Sproule - Leon Rippy
      Trias - Edward James Olmos
      Gunn - Liam Carney
      Smith - Arben Bajraktaraj
      Dorsey - William Houston
      Prewett - Sean Gilder
      Tate - Gary Lewis
      Shelby - Steve Evets
      Carroll - Sam Douglas
      Sloat - Bronson Webb

  • Hows about "The Rock' as Judge?

  • Cerone

    Can't go wrong with a cast like this.

    The Kid - Dillon Freasier

    Judge Holden - John Carroll Lynch (best choice for cynicism and sadism) or David Morse (best choice for creepiness and disturbed enthusiasm)

    John Joel Glanton - Daniel Day-Lewis

    Benjamin Tobin - Jeremy Renner

    Captain White - Michael Shannon (with the whole admiral mustache and pointed chin beard with not much a goatee, a bit of a throwback to his role in The Iceman with a touch of Nelson Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire)

    David Brown - Barry Pepper (would do superbly)

    John Jackson - Michael K. Williams and Woody Harrelson

    Only choices left are Nicholas Winding Refn and Ridley Scott. Though I'd chose Scott right off the bat, even though Scott may seem a bit to lazy to return to true fine form, he is no stranger to brutal violence and savagery (alas the gut-wrenching gore in Hannibal and pretty much all of his films). In that case he'd make the **** out of Blood Meridian and make on par use of his cast, not to mention he CAN make violence look poetic, hints of it are in The Counselor.

    To Kill a Mockingbird for adults.

    • Cerone

      And Sam Rockwell for Louis Toadvine.

  • Cerone

    Francis Ford Coppola would be an essentially valuable choice for director as well.

  • bongostella

    It has been mentioned before, but Vincent D'Onofrio would be excellent as the Judge.

  • Goat

    For the last fifteen years, there has only been one person in my head to play Judge Holden: Daniel Benzali.

    • Mark Fritts


  • nate

    Micheal Berryman as judge, Clancy brown and Tom Noonan good picks too! The rest of cast Brad Dourif, garret dillahunt, rutger hauer, lance henriksen, mads mikkelsen, powers booths, Forsythe etc.
    unknown for the kid someone grimey like the kids from Gummo

    • nate

      Maybe Harry dean Stanton could pop in and play a couple tex/mex songs

  • Sverre sorensen

    Yes i exsist Dee Mack. But i am living in Norway. This film must be made

  • Primary and secondary casting choices.

    Judge Holden- Russell Crowe/John Goodman

    John Joel Glanton- Edward Norton/Guy Pearce

    Toadvine- Matthew McConaughey/Charlie Hunnam

    Tobin- Billy Bob Thornton

    Davey Brown- Ben Foster

    Captain White- Tom Wilkinson/Dennis Quaid

    Bathcat- Tim Roth

    Idiot- Crispin Glover

    Hermit- Robert Duvall/John Lithgow

    Fortune-Teller- Benicio Del Toro

    Dr. Lincoln- William H. Macy

    Sproule- Steve Buscemi/John Turturro

    Black Jackson- Djimon Hounsou

  • Christoffer S.

    Not a single person in existence fits the physical description of the judge. He would have to be created using CGI to do him any justice.

    • Director: The Coen Brothers

      The Kid: Paul Dano
      Judge Holden: John Goodman
      Glanton: Casey Affleck
      Toadvine: John Hawkes
      Tobin: Bryan Cranston

  • Nate

    The Judge? Vincent Donofrio(sp)

  • billis

    john glanton died at the age of 32. one of the problems with these choices in casting is that most of these actors are too old to be believable in these roles. scalp hunting is a young man's game.

  • Judge Holden - viggo mortensen. Benjamin Tobin - christoph waltz. Good choices ???? I think these acters are the can portray the characters really well.