“Clue” is my go-to comfort movie. The 1985 murder mystery starred Tim Curry as a one man Greek chorus of a butler, Madeline Kahn as the flustered Mrs. White, and Christopher Lloyd as lecherous Professor Plum. They were part of an energetic ensemble invited to a mansion by Mr. Boddy, who’s only seen briefly before being murdered. Whodunnit? That’s what they need to figure out.
What results is a perfect balance between theatrical dialogue and cinematic slapstick. Its humor is rangy, often folding extended wordplay and physical comedy together in ways that are unexpected. Very few jokes can be guessed ahead of time. Its lithe ability to shift so deftly between different styles of comedy is what makes it so rewatchable. You don’t see just one style of comedy done well, you see some of the best comedic actors of their generation deliver on a screenplay and direction that features every little thing they can do.
“Clue” stands as the best movie adaptation of a board game, in large part because it happened well before the scramble to adapt any and every board game with a recognizable brand name. It also stayed surprisingly true to the game, releasing into theaters with a variety of endings. People who’d seen it at different theaters would each insist a different person was guilty, mirroring the disagreements that can happen when playing the actual game. For home release and any version you’ll see now, these endings are presented one after the other in a way that maintains the film’s eccentric momentum.
I like Ryan Reynolds, but I have some concern over his proposed “Clue” remake. First and foremost, the two announced cast – Reynolds and Jason Bateman – don’t fit what I’d want to see in a remake. Each plays variations on a single character in everything they’ve been in. They’re very good at doing that, but they both lack the breadth and ability for variation that “Clue” demands.
The various writers they’ve gone through boast experience ranging from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to “Deadpool”, but the most recent rewrite is by the man who brought us “Mortal Kombat” and “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”. He also wrote “22 Jump Street” and “The Lost City”, which is reassuring and makes the chances of Channing Tatum jump exponentially. Actually, I’d be better with him than Reynolds or Bateman.
The saving grace so far is James Bobin’s attachment as director. The “Flight of the Concords” creator helmed the 2011 “The Muppets” and “Muppets Most Wanted”, and I heard surprisingly good things about his live-action “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”. He’s an ideal director for something that seeks to balance camp, theatricality, slapstick, and some good, old-fashioned fourth wall breakage.
Who’s in my ideal cast? I’m so glad I’m pretending you asked. I’ve looked at a lot of clickbait, a lot of comment sections, and I’ll let you know who the popular choice seems to be before offering my suggestion. I’m not just going to focus on big names – that’s not realistic or affordable, and every character being a showboat would just make a mess. Let’s focus on a cast that complements each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
originally: Tim Curry
the popular choice: Matt Berry
my choice: Daniel Radcliffe
The role you’ve got to get right is the butler who buttles (“I buttle, sir”). He keeps the plot moving forward. Tim Curry fused his preternatural ability to anchor you into a narrative with comedic chops that let him bounce from scene to scene like a chaotic pinball. The role needs to cut a line straight down the middle of the narrative hijinks and the showiness of other roles. It’s one of the more underrated comedy performances out there.
The temptation – as I’m sure it is for Reynolds – is to cast, you know, Ryan Reynolds. That could work…ish. I’m not sold on the idea. You need to cast someone who can capture the camera on the heels of someone else’s joke, and then return it just as easily. Reynolds can do the first part with ease; I’m not entirely sure he can hand the attention back reliably enough.
The popular choice I kept coming across is Matt Berry. That’d work, as the man’s been doing Curry-adjacent comedy from “The IT Crowd” to “What We Do in the Shadows”. For all his skill at parodying bravado, Berry is an expert at sharing the screen and readily turning the joke over to his fellow actors.
Yet as I researched this, there was one suggestion that felt so out of the box – and yet disturbingly accurate – that I couldn’t dismiss it. I hate to open with a suggestion that’s already out there, but Pajiba’s recommendation of Daniel Radcliffe is so inventive I just can’t shake it.
In his post Harry Potter career, Radcliffe has focused on bringing dynamic complexity to comedic roles that could’ve just been one-note jokes. Look at “Swiss Army Man” next to “Miracle Workers” for his ability to shift quickly between grounding a moment and flinging it into chaos.
Believe me, I wanted to feel all clever and make my own out-of-left-field suggestion, but this one’s so good I can’t get it out of my brain – and he’d give the film box office draw.
originally: Madeline Kahn
the popular choice: Aubrey Plaza
my choice: Claudia O’Doherty
The showiest role in “Clue” is that of Mrs. White, played by one of the great comedic actors of the last century in Madeline Kahn. I’m not sure you can find an equal. The popular choice in article after article is Aubrey Plaza. While she can go off on a fiery tangent, her foundational humor tends to be much drier.
Kahn could plant a line so acidic that you didn’t realize it until half a scene later when it had melted through your hull. Contrast this to Plaza, who jerks the audience by the collar into the joke. Plaza’s is an incredibly muscular comedy that works by interrupting and redirecting the pace. It’s unique to her and maybe that’s more valuable to Mrs. White than fitting a particular mold. Again though, it’s that breadth of comedy that I want. Plaza can nail a specific character range as well or better than Reynolds or Bateman, but like them, I’m not sure she has the adaptability I’m looking for.
You can’t go wrong choosing Plaza, but I do feel there’s a more apt choice – someone who can deliver a line that sits in wait before taking your brain by storm. Claudia O’Doherty is the best I know at shifting from a supporting ensemble voice one moment to stealing the scene out from under half a dozen people the next.
The Australian actor stars in “Killing It” and had a supporting role in last year’s “Our Flag Means Death” (as Stede Bonnet’s jilted wife Mary). She can adopt the sweet innocent “Who me?” vibes of Mrs. White while flashing daggers of contempt and murderous vengeance.
originally: Lesley Ann Warren
the popular choice: Aubrey Plaza (again!)
my choice: Josie Totah
Miss Scarlet embodies a smoldering, charming, come-hither attitude, but guards it with a thick layer of the unattainable. You need someone who can disarm others from a pedestal she’s placed herself upon, yet occasionally lets the facade down and has to scramble back up to it before anyone else notices. That comedy has its spotlight moments, but a lot of it has to happen in the background – it has to be something the audience notices her doing before anyone else does.
Again Plaza’s is the name most often mentioned; people really want to see her in a “Clue” remake. Who am I to argue?
I’m torn in a few directions otherwise. After “Do Vengeance”, I have to admit Maya Hawke would be an exceptional choice. Utilizing your blocking and knowing how the camera sees you is such an overlooked aspect of film comedy. Hawke has rare ability there. If you cast her, I’d have no good argument against it.
If you want to cast a straight up prototypical Miss Scarlet who was born for the role, you dye British impressionist Morgana Robinson’s hair red and call it a day. She captures the camera in a way Miss Scarlet must, and in British panel shows like “Taskmaster” has naturally projected the exact smolder a Miss Scarlet should have.
A lesser known choice would be Josie Totah. I’ve only seen her in the underrated and overlooked gem that was the “Saved by the Bell” reboot, but she was the show’s standout. Her comic timing and command of physical comedy was undeniable and she possesses Warren’s capacity to play out a counter-scene in the background.
It’s a big shift from the type of series acting Totah’s done before to the kind of film acting this would ask, but I think she’s got the ability and presence.
originally: Christopher Lloyd
the popular choice: Keegan-Michael Key
my choice: Bryan Cranston
As much goodwill as I have for Keegan-Michael Key, outside of sketches I’ve only ever seen him play variations on one role. That role is very reliable and he wouldn’t be a bad choice for the more straight-laced Mr. Green, but I’m not sure you choose him to be a punchy, lascivious old man for an hour-and-a-half. I just don’t see it.
The one who could capture an energy equal to Christopher Lloyd’s is Bryan Cranston. Let’s not forget his fierce and terrifying work on “Breaking Bad” was preceded by the goofy physical comedy of put-upon father Hal in “Malcolm in the Middle”. With Jane Kaczmarek, the pair formed what still stands to this day as the most entertaining sitcom marriage since “I Love Lucy”. Cranston has long been the natural successor to Lloyd’s eccentric yet easily distracted geniuses, he’s just done the other stuff, too. (So did Lloyd; let’s not forget the time he fistfought Captain Kirk as complex Klingon Commander Kruge).
Cranston’s breadth across the “Malcolm in the Middle” to “Breaking Bad” spectrum, his skill for the eccentric, and the fact he’s getting older means he’s the perfect choice for Professor Plum – a scoundrel who uses his title to hide his slavering salaciousness.
originally: Eileen Brennan
the popular choice: Catherine O’Hara
my choice: Niecy Nash
Eileen Brennan’s original Mrs. Peacock had a habit of saying something just off-kilter enough to give you pause, but not so much to stop you in your tracks as the joke kept going. As I mentioned earlier, fan-casting tends to want everyone to be a showboat who steals the camera, but if everyone’s doing that, no one’s keeping the film afloat.
Niecy Nash has made her name in supporting work, delivering the kind of jokes that trip you up without making you fall behind. She has an exceptional talent for ensemble work. I could also see Ali Wong here and I harbor a deep curiosity after “Halo” of just how much scenery Natascha McElhone could chew. But Nash is the best choice as an actor who gets opportune jabs in without ever wavering in her support of the performers around her.
originally: Martin Mull
the popular choice: Nick Offerman
my choice: Diane Morgan
Colonel Mustard is the dopey and cowardly military man who’s always a step behind and volunteers others to walk into danger first. Nick Offerman could do that; I’ve got no problem with that choice. But I feel there’s one person born to take on that role and improve upon it. That is Philomena Cunk herself, Diane Morgan.
You’ve likely seen some of her work as the dreadfully miscast and inept documentary host in her British “Cunk” satires and Netflix’s recent “Cunk on Earth”. She actually has a huge range of appearances on British TV, perhaps most notably her touching portrayal of an absurd boss who’s revealed to be desperately lonely in “After Life”. The role is one of the most remarkable pieces of character development in the last several years.
Mull originally played the role as someone who had boundless confidence while being consistently out of his depth. This is Morgan’s wheelhouse, but she’s managed to find human depths in it that make it more reflective, uncomfortable, and all the funnier.
originally: Michael McKean
the popular choice: Ryan Reynolds
my choice: Martin Freeman
This tends to be where most stick Ryan Reynolds because you’ve got to put him somewhere. Mr. Green is the character most able to fade into the background, a nondescript everyman who’s so easy to overlook that it serves his role as a C.I.A. spy perfectly. Nondescript and easy to overlook…doesn’t sound like Ryan Reynolds. At all.
You want a put-upon everyman, you get Martin Freeman. From Sherlock’s endearing Watson to Bilbo from “The Hobbit” fame, he’s achieved a level of frumpy discontent that perfectly conveys he’d rather be at home reading a good book. He’s played more adventurous roles in the MCU and the “Fargo” series, but even here he maintains an undercurrent of, “This adventure is making me miss time I could be spending under a blanket.”
He plays characters who are less exciting than their adventures, but are lovable because they lack airs, which mirrors McKean’s take on the comedic straight man.
originally: Colleen Camp
the popular choice: Aubrey Plaza
my choice: Henry Cavill
The maid in a low cut uniform who’s ogled by the entire cast is often forgotten when thinking of the core ensemble of “Clue”, and that’s a shame. Camp does good work beyond just the initial sight gag. It’s one of the few movies where the repeating ogle joke is done well, chiefly because it’s an indictment of the men staring at her instead of dealing with a life-or-death situation.
And while the internet does want to see Aubrey Plaza in every single role (actually wait, can we just do that version) and she can smolder on demand, I do feel like this is the place to really feature someone who’s captured the zeitgeist of cultural desire. Now Chris Hemsworth has done this sort of role before and he’s good at it, but he has a tendency to steal scenes. Henry Cavill has a quieter, more complementary presence, he has underrated comic delivery, and he’s more suited to ensemble work. Let’s just not dehydrate him for days on end this time; I’m sure Cavill looks just fine without risking his life.
originally: Lee Ving
the popular choice: Ryan Reynolds
my choice: Taika Waititi
In the original, Mr. Boddy only appears briefly to chew out and threaten his dinner guests before being mysteriously murdered. This is the place where you can stunt cast – Bradley Cooper, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, you name it.
It’s also where many stick Ryan Reynolds because – hey, that’s a stunt cast, he’s good at leveling off a quickfire round of insults, and it lets you cast the guy who’s getting the movie made without sacrificing a larger part.
I’d personally love to see Taika Waititi bounce in, insult and extort everyone, and then get candlesticked. We probably each have our own preference. Ali Wong could also knock a part like this out beautifully.
There are various other roles that come and go, but there’s no reason to assume they’d be a must in a remake. The leading suggestion for the Singing Telegram is – you’ll never guess! – Aubrey Plaza. I feel kind of bad not finding a role for her because I love her work, but in casting this I find myself really wanting to stay away from actors who specialize in one personality type. That includes Reynolds and Bateman as well. All three of them are great at what they do and suited to any number of other projects, but I want to see a “Clue” that asks its actors to be light-footed. The original’s unpredictable timings and delivery, the way its cast hands jokes off to each other so smoothly…that’s what I want to see and that’s a different sort of comedy.
There’s no real need to stick to the character types so extraordinarily realized in the original. There are so many “Clue” variants you could easily find new characters to fit other actors. Sticking to the original roles just gives us a framework to suggest a cast.
I find most dream casting write-ups tend to feature an expensive, ideal cast where everyone can show off and…that’s just not the way movies are budgeted and made. If everyone’s one-lining like Ryan Reynolds, then you might have an amusing movie but not one that feels like “Clue”.
You need complementary pieces, which is why I suggest a mix of name, character, and satirical actors. That often makes for more functional casts, especially when it comes to ensemble comedies.
That gives us a final cast:
Wadsworth – Daniel Radcliffe
Mrs. White – Claudia O’Doherty
Miss Scarlet – Josie Totah
Professor Plum – Bryan Cranston
Mrs. Peacock – Niecy Nash
Colonel Mustard – Diane Morgan
Mr. Green – Martin Freeman
Yvette – Henry Cavill
Mr. Boddy – Taika Waititi
The original “Clue” is on Amazon, Roku, Philo, Sling, and can be rented on a number of other platforms.
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