The news from The Hollywood Reporter is that Hugo Weaving (a.k.a. Agent Smith from The Matrix, Elrond from The Lord of the Rings, and V from V for Vendetta) is in talks to play the Red Skull in the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger. (Update: And now it is official.) Director Joe Johnston wants him to play the role, and at this point I would say it’s about 90% certain he’ll play the most famous Cap villain of all, the masked Nazi madman whom Hitler personally trained to be the ultimate enforcer for the Third Reich. (That’s the official Silver Age version of his background that was detailed in 1984—there are alternate versions.) The deal still has to go through, and Marvel has been known to low-ball actors for the movies. Just ask Mickey Rourke.
We’ve known for some time that the Red Skull would be the villain. Not only did Joe Johnston announce that he wanted the Skull as the baddie, but any big-screen adaptation of Captain America without the Skull is unthinkable. He’s not only the best-known of all Cap’s rouges gallery, he’s really the only one that the general public might know. Cap has some great villains: Baron Zemo I & II, Arnim Zola, Crossbones, Doctor Faustus, the Serpent Squad, HYDRA, the Viper, the insane ‘50s Captain America, and the various adversaries who threatened the Avengers under Cap’s leadership, like Kang and Ultron. But the Red Skull is the big one. He’s the Lex Luthor, he’s the Joker, he’s the Green Goblin. Actually, he’s more than those, because he dominates Cap’s rogues gallery in a way the others don’t. If you know one villain from Captain America comics, you know the Red Skull.
Hugo Weaving as the Skull is both welcome and a bit of a surprise. In my two years of guessing about who would play the Red Skull, I almost focused entirely on German-speaking actors. My long-time front-runner was Thomas Kretschmann, a German-born actor who played in The Pianist (as the sympathetic Nazi), Peter Jackson’s King Kong (as Captain Englehorn), and Valkyrie. He struck me as having the right ferocity and physicality for the Skull, and also thought he would do well as Johann Schmidt, the Skull’s original identity. When I thought of Kretschmann as the character, these panels from the famous “True History of the Red Skull” 1984 issue of Captain America always leaped to mind:
Then, when Inglourious Basterds became a hit, I started to consider Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. After he won an Oscar on Sunday night, I was sure that Marvel would start putting in the phone calls to him. I certainly would. A bit older than Kretschmann, but Waltz certainly has the lean and fierce look, and he can play a pretty killer ruthless SOB.
So Hugo Weaving hadn’t occurred to me. But now that it seems it’s going to happen . . . yeah, duh. Naturally. He’ll be great. And we know, from V for Vendetta, that he can act from behind a mask. Plus, Johnston has worked with him before, in The Wolfman.
However, we still don’t have a Captain America, and with shooting starting in April, the rumors of casting for the part have gone into triple overtime. First Jeremy Renner, hot from The Hurt Locker, was bouncing around. Then John Krasinski was said to be front-runner. The first is an interesting idea, the second pretty awful. Then all the rumored folks were said to be out of the running—if indeed they ever were in the running and not just rumors. Now, it’s supposed to be between three people: Mike Vogel, Garrett Hedlund (star of future smash-hit Tron Legacy), and Chris “Human Torch” Evans. Or this could be further rumors. Johnston has said he wants an unknown, which I would think puts Hedlund at the top, as he won’t be well-known until Tron Legacy out-grosses Avatar in December. (Yes, I’m being testily optimistic. I’m excited about this film, okay?) I expect we’ll find out within the week—and I wouldn’t be surprised if the part goes to someone who hasn’t been rumored at all before. Remember the Heath Ledger Joker surprise? We might get that.
At least we have our Red Skull . . . and a damn great one, too.
Update: We have our Captain America as well.