Zachary Levi and Lucy Liu/Photos © S. Bukley/Shutterstock
Welcome to Signature's Casting Call, where we exercise our creative muscles by focusing our attention on extraordinary characters from exceptional books - either fiction or nonfiction - and make the case for how we'd cast those roles if given the chance. Note that, here at Signature, we're not casting directors, nor are we producers, agents, or anyone else who has any say in how a film will be cast; we're simply ardent fans of books and movies who can't help ourselves from such musings.
Maybe it's because of the end of the world is nigh (allegedly), but dystopian stories are especially hot right now. The Hunger Games has raked in an impressive cash haul as both book and movie franchises, while "The Walking Dead" and "Revolution" are hits with television audiences. Hollywood loves a trend, so it's no surprise that New Line Cinema has recently taken another shot at a project they've had in development for years: an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan's acclaimed comic book series Y: The Last Man.
First published in 2002, Y:The Last Man opens with a high-concept set piece: the sudden, instantaneous death of the Earth's entire population of male mammals, except for one man, Yorick Brown, and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand. Over the course of sixty issues, Yorick, accompanied by a secret agent and a geneticist, searches for clues about the mysterious plague while trying to reunite with his girlfriend, an anthropologist doing research in Australia. With its killer (literally) premise, strong narrative, and complex characters, Y: The Last Man makes for gripping drama, one just asking to be brought to life by the right cast. (And we particularly like that a potential Y adaptation, despite its male protagonist, is, essentially, a major showcase for female actors.)
Y's hero is an everyman forced to adapt to highly unusual circumstances. When the story begins, Yorick is a recent college graduate, learning conjuring tricks while figuring out his future. The outbreak gives his life focus -- a quest to find his girlfriend and to understand his place in this new world -- and transforms him over five years from goofy, impulsive boy to a still goofy, but mature hero. The last man in the world needs to be perfect: someone who can do dramatic heavy lifting while firing off a pop culture barb, someone relatable and likeable enough to carry a film. Our pick would be Zachary Levi, an avowed fan of the series, who also played a similar character in the television show "Chuck." (In fact, Y made several cameo appearances throughout.) While older than Vaughan's Yorick -- the character could be aged up slightly without changing anything -- Levi has demonstrated an ability to play both comedy and action-adventure well and combines a natural charm with an everyman quality.
Agent 355, part of the secretive government agency known as the Culper Ring, is assigned to Yorick and remains with him through most of the series. No-nonsense, loyal, and handy with a weapon, she is nevertheless human, haunted by her past and sympathetic to her charges. For such a significant role, Hollywood would probably cast a name like Halle Berry or Zoe Saldana. We like Adepero Oduye, whose breakout role was in the recent independent film "Pariah," but she might be a bit young for the part. Our other pick is perfect, though: Danai Gurira, an intelligent, subtle actress currently slaying zombies on "The Walking Dead."
Allison Mann is a Chinese-Japanese-American geneticist whose research on cloning may have triggered the plague and is thus sought by 355 and Yorick for answers. The brilliant and fierce Dr. Mann joins their quest and eventually becomes friends with the pair. Hollywood's go-to pick would be ours as well: the consistently underrated Lucy Liu, whose most famous roles -- Alex Munday, O-ren Ishii, and Joan Watson -- seem like rehearsal for this one. For more curveball picks, we recommend Michelle Krusiec, the lead in the indie "Saving Face," and Keiko Agena, who we'd like to see branch out from her best-known role as Lane on "Gilmore Girls."
And, last but not least, we need to fill the all-important part of Yorick's sidekick Ampersand. Given that one actor has a death grip on all major capuchin roles, this is a sure thing: Crystal, late of "Night at the Museum," "The Hangover Part II," and the recent sitcoms "Community" and "Animal Practice." Not only is she more than capable of tackling Ampersand, but it also seems appropriate that a female performer take on a male character here.
Our final suggestion actually has nothing to do with casting, but format. As a story told over sixty issues, Y would be best served as a television series, ideally on AMC. While New Line has thus far developed it as a feature, we hope they take note of the current (and lucrative) popularity of long-form television narratives and change their minds. But, no matter what, we look forward to seeing this story on screen, large or small (but hopefully small).