The case of the missing Mae Whitman and ‘Independence Day 2’

04.28.15 3 years ago

Before we begin, I want to make something very clear. Nothing I am about to say in any way negates the very good work Maika Monroe did in both “It Follows” and “The Guest,” work which got her more attention and made her into the town's new It girl at the exact moment Fox was looking for someone to star in the new “Independence Day” sequel. I get why she was hired, and I wish Monroe well. I like her work, and I am not surprised Hollywood is eager to figure out how they can cast her in bigger films.

But on the same day that casting decision is announced, I get an e-mail about the upcoming home video release of “The Duff,” a film that stars Mae Whitman. The film opened to a $10.8 million weekend, and it's earned around $34 million for CBS Films/Lionsgate so far. I mention this only so that I can point out that “It Follows” and “The Guest” together only total around $15 million at the box-office. And I mention this only so I can ask the question from a position of sold financial footing…

… why the hell didn't Fox hire Mae Whitman for “Independence Day 2”?

And, yes, I do think I know the answer. And, yes, the answer disturbs me. Anyone who saw the season premiere of “Inside Amy Schumer” or saw the sketch that has become a major conversational point from that episode probably knows the answer. Even worse, I would imagine we all know the answer even without the Schumer sketch being in the conversation.

The stories about Monroe's hiring imply that the President's daughter has a large role in the sequel, possibly even the female lead. Fox can't possibly argue that Monroe is worth more at the box-office or that she's got any sort of following that would make her the clear hire over Whitman. In terms of raw number crunching, Whitman's the safer bet, with a much longer track record to consider. Just on a business level, it seems like Whitman's the choice. Forget about what's right or wrong… the bottom line would suggest Whitman is the one you hire. According to the Hollywood Reporter, there was actually a short list of actors, and Whitman wasn't on that, either. But the oh-so-cute actors whose names were on the list all seem to be more of a conventionally “hot” type than Whitman, making it look clearly like they were chasing a certain something.

Wait… I just realized that for those of you who don't remember every little detail about “Independence Day,” you may think I'm just writing about two actors up for the same role where I have a preference. No, no. In the original “Independence Day,” Mae Whitman was the President's daughter. Recasting her would be like making a “True Lies” sequel that's basically “Father Of The Bride” with a body count and not casting Eliza Dushku as the lead.

Only Hollywood would happily cast Dushku in that film because of the underlying problem that we're still dancing around here. I'm going to use a word, and I want it to be made clear that I am not saying this about Whitman. I am saying that our industry uses these metrics, and that Heather Matarazzo was right when she called this out recently. It's an ugly way of thinking, and an ugly way to cast a film.

Mae Whitman is a remarkable young actor. Watching her on “Parenthood” for the full run of that show, she is so in touch with her emotional core that when she has to pull up the big stuff for her big scenes, it feels genuinely dangerous. She taps into something deep and real. And then on top of that, she's funny. Very funny, actually. Her work on “Arrested Development” or in “The Duff” is confirmation of her lethal chops, and also her own ability to steer into the way Hollywood casts her, subverting it at the same time. “The Duff” felt like a break-through for her, a film that put her in the right light and made the case for her as an enormously appealing lead.

“Independence Day 2” would be lucky to have someone as talented as Mae Whitman in it, and this decision seems like such a blatant, tin-eared attempt to follow industry heat and pander to industry norms about who can or can't be a lead in this kind of film that I'm feeling fed up before this thing even begins. Who cares about “Independence Day” at this point? Who needs a sequel to that film? What questions remain unanswered? What story needs to be told?

As I said… I completely understand why Maika Monroe would be excited to play this part, and I'm sure she'll be very good in it. She's talented. But so is Whitman, and the studio and Roland Emmerich have made a gross public decision here that immediately makes me question their judgment in other choices on the film. I'd be perfectly happy to see no “Independence Day” sequel at all after this inauspicious start.

“Independence Day 2” is supposed to be in theaters June 24, 2016.

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