Get ready to send me a check, HBO. I’m about to do your job for you!
Yesterday, I posted an article about how the premium cable network will be adapting a yet-to-be-published book about the 2016 Election into a miniseries sometime next year. In light of this news, I thought it would be fun to “fan cast” the important roles in the incredibly true story. Before I get into which actors I think should play each part, however, I just want to briefly explain the criteria I used to come to the decisions below.
Firstly, as hilarious as Alec Baldwin, Kate McKinnon, and Larry David were on Saturday Night Live throughout the course of 2016, all signs point to this adaptation being a more serious affair. Baldwin, McKinnon, and David are all great actors; I have no doubt that given the opportunity they could pull off dramatic portrayals of the politicians they’ve spent a year spoofing. I just think their comedic impressions are far too ingrained within pop culture for audiences to take them seriously if they were to suddenly switch to playing their roles straight. And I can’t see HBO doing this project without even a subconscious intention of trying to win some serious awards with it, so I don’t believe they’d risk casting leads who wouldn’t be taken seriously in the parts.
Secondly, when I compiled the below list, I left no one in Hollywood off of the table. If this were a miniseries on network television, I wouldn’t even have considered most of the actors I ended up choosing. But as this is going to debut on HBO, I figured that everybody was fair game. After all, the network did manage to get Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, and Woody Harrelson to star in 2012’s adaptation of Game Change!
Thirdly, there were so many people who played such important roles in last year’s election that had I tried to cast them all, this article would be so long that even I wouldn’t want to read it. So I decided to narrow my list (of fifty!) down to the three major candidates of the 2016 election, their close family, and the former President, Vice President, and First Lady.
With that being said, let’s get to my choices.
The Big Three
1) Bryan Cranston as Donald Trump
Out of all of the people on this list, our current President was by far the hardest for me to cast.
Donald Trump is such a larger than life figure, often resembling a caricature more than a real person, that at first I couldn’t think of anybody better suited to play him than Trump himself. (Who, I’m sure, would be up to the task.) The fact that this miniseries reportedly wants a “more interesting dramatic portrayal that’s not a cartoonish caricature” made the job of picking an actor even harder, because the performer would need a broad range of both dramatic and comedic abilities.
Once I thought of Bryan Cranston, I never looked back. If you look at his two most iconic television roles – Walter White on Breaking Bad and Hal on Malcolm in the Middle – it’s clear that he has the wide range that is required to portray Donald Trump the human being, not just Donald Trump the cartoon. Add in the fact that Cranston has already expressed interest in playing Trump one day, and has even been working on an impression of the President, and it seems like a match made in heaven.
2) Meryl Streep as Hillary Clinton
Unlike her opponent in the general election, our former Secretary of State was the easiest person on this list to cast. And honestly, there’s only ever been one choice of an actress in my mind – and I’m sure the minds of many others – to play her.
It’s not only because Meryl Streep bears a passing resemblance to Hillary Clinton and would require very little makeup to transform her completely. It’s the gravitas and power that Meryl Streep brings to every role that would be essential for any actress playing the Democratic Nominee – a woman who spent her life breaking glass ceilings and trying to redefine the role of women in society. Streep is such an acclaimed performer in Hollywood because of her ability to completely inhabit every role she takes on. Look at her performance as Margaret Thatcher, for which she won an Oscar, in The Iron Lady. She didn’t only just absolutely nail Thatcher’s speech patterns, accent, mannerisms, the way she held herself, her walk, and even her appearance (thanks to the makeup department who worked on the film!); she also managed to portray the British Prime Minister – who’s usually thought of as being very cold, and not normally thought of fondly by a lot of people – as a three-dimensional, sympathetic character. Given the chance, I have no doubt that the incredible Meryl Streep would be able to do the same by embodying Hillary Clinton as completely.
But don’t take my word for it! To quote Cam on Modern Family, “Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.” So obviously she would be the right choice for Hillary Clinton.
3) Bill Nighy as Bernie Sanders
When the fairly unknown, Independent Vermont Senator entered the presidential race in 2015, nobody expected him to pose any sort of serious challenge in the Democratic Primary. He did, however, end up becoming a real threat to Hillary Clinton’s all-but-assured nomination as the Democratic nominee. His passion shone through his curmudgeonly demeanor, and his strong personality rivaled Clinton’s own.
In an adaptation of the events, you’d need an actor with a presence big enough to rival that of the actress playing Hillary Clinton, and I believe Bill Nighy is an actor capable of doing such that. Even in this hypothetical scenario where Streep is playing Clinton, I believe Nighy has demonstrated in previous roles that he has the acting chops to go toe-to-toe with the Oscar winner. Frankly, I’m surprised that Bill Nighy has never even been nominated for an Academy Award himself over the course of his long career!
Regardless, I have no doubt that the English actor could pull off the role of Bernie Sanders. It also helps that he would need very little makeup to achieve the necessary look; he would just need to make sure he mastered the senator’s oft-imitated Brooklyn accent.
Other Important Players
4) Jeffrey Tambor as Mike Pence
The key for any actor to play our current Vice President well is in nailing his quiet, exasperated, almost bored manner of speaking. Sure Tambor is over a decade older than Mike Pence, and would need a realistic looking wig of white hair to properly look like him, but it’s doable. Like all of the actors on this list, Jeffrey Tambor has range enough to properly portray this quiet-mannered yet controversial political figure who got swept up in the maelstrom of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
One need not look further than Arrested Development to see that the actor is good at playing exasperation excellently, as well as having the ability to convey that his character believes he’s smarter than everyone else in the room, both of which would serve him well in the role of Mike Pence. And though the actor’s roots are in comedy, he has won multiple words for his dramatic portrayal on the Amazon series Transparent.
5) Tom Hanks as Tim Kaine
When thinking about who to cast as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, the first thing I thought of was the fact that whichever actor plays him has to be extremely down-to-earth. And when you think of actors who are down-to-earth, the first name that immediately pops to mind is Tom Hanks, who is probably one of the biggest, most genuine “people persons” working in Hollywood. He also has a contagious air of enthusiasm about him that is essential for the role of Tim Kaine.
I also couldn’t help myself casting Hanks in the role when taking into account that he’s just as popular with people as Meryl Streep is, but more importantly, just as talented as Streep is as well. Seeing the two play running mates on HBO every week would be absolutely electrifying, and Tom Hanks is a confident enough actor to play the role as it would be required – understated and as second fiddle to Streep’s Clinton. It also doesn’t hurt that Hanks bears a passing resemblance to Tim Kaine as well.
6) Will Smith as Barack Obama
Did you really think I’d choose anybody but one of the best looking, charismatic, all around “cool” actors in Hollywood to play one of the best looking, charismatic, all around “cool” Presidents that the United States has ever had? They even have the same ears! In addition, President Obama and Will Smith have already talked about the latter playing the former in a biopic about the first African American President of the United States.
Obama’s role in Clinton’s campaign was an important one. One of her most important surrogates on the trail, he was a man whose entire legacy was on the line, trying to help his former rival win the White House in the hopes that she would preserve it. At the same time, he was struggling to keep a country on the brink of falling apart together, and repair the split that seemed to have occurred in the Democratic Party. On top of which, he seemed to be having the time of his life attacking Donald Trump, who had attacked him many times over the years.
Given the multi-faceted role the President played in real life, I believe the role in the miniseries is the perfect fit for Will Smith. It’s one that would allow him to utilize both his comedic chops and his dramatic chops to great effect.
7) Kerry Washington as Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama is one of the most popular First Lady’s this country has ever seen. Intelligent, politically savvy, strong, influential, and beautiful, it would take an actress who is equally all of these things to do her justice. I honestly believe there is no better person to play Barack Obama’s partner and rock than Kerry Washington.
Besides the fact that she possesses all of the attributes I listed above, Washington also already has experience playing someone who is wrapped up in the world of politics on her hit television show, Scandal, and I think that experience would serve her well were she to play the part of Michelle Obama. In addition to the fact that she’s an acclaimed actress, having been nominated for and won multiple awards over the course of her career, she also has dipped her toes into politics in real life (Speaking at the DNC convention in 2012 to re-elect Barack Obama, and releasing an ad endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016) and can draw upon those experiences.
Also important to note is Kerry Washington is just as affable and as cool as Will Smith, which would be important if she were playing opposite him as his on-screen wife, since Michelle Obama is just as cool as her husband in real life.
8) John Slattery as Joe Biden
When people picture Joe Biden in their minds, normally they think of a good looking, older man with a full head of white hair. Though more than a few years younger than our former Vice President, John Slattery is definitely the Hollywood equivalent to him.
More importantly though is the fact that any actor who takes on the role of Biden has to be able to convey the “Uncle Joe” persona that the real life figure has; they have to be able to personify somebody who is a “man of the people” with a good sense of humor and a habit of speaking off the cuff, sometimes a little too blithely. John Slattery can convey all of that easily, and has already done so for years on Mad Men.
9) John Travolta as Bill Clinton
Travolta was the first, and only, name that came to mind to play Hillary Clinton’s husband – and former President of the United States – Bill Clinton. Looking at the two men now, I’m aware that Travolta’s physique more closely resembles Clinton’s during the ‘90s than his current look, though that’s easy enough to fix. The main reason I chose John Travolta for this role, however, is due to the fact that he already essentially played Bill Clinton in the movie Primary Colors.
I’d love to see Travolta reprise the role of Bill Clinton, this time actually being called by that name, due to the fact that he played him so well once before. I think it would also be an interesting challenge to him as an actor to play the same man again after so long, this time at a very different point in his life. I honestly believe John Travolta would jump at the chance to do it – and lose the weight to do it as well – especially given the chance to work opposite Meryl Streep.
10) Michelle Trachtenberg as Chelsea Clinton
It’s a miracle that Chelsea Clinton has remained remarkably innocent and scandal free given the fact that she grew up in the public eye, in addition to who her parents are. Nevertheless, her upbringing and her family has made her extremely politically savvy, business savvy, and intelligent. During her mother’s race for the White House in 2016, she was one of her biggest champions on the campaign trail.
Not only are Michelle Trachtenberg and Chelsea Clinton close in age in real life, but the two even look slightly like one another. And while Trachtenberg may not be the most relevant performer nowadays, she was great in all of her past roles, even if the movies themselves weren’t always the best. Plus, what better way for her to redefine herself as a serious actress than taking on the role of Chelsea Clinton – especially if it were opposite Meryl Streep and John Travolta playing her fictional parents?
11) Angelina Jolie as Melania Trump
Angelina Jolie was the only actress I even considered for the role of Melania Trump. Not only does she have a foreign, exotic look about her, but she’s also a critically acclaimed Oscar winner which speaks to her talent as an actress.
Melania Trump would definitely be an interesting role to play because it wouldn’t require a huge, showy performance. Rather, the actress cast in the part would have to bring nuance to the role in order to convey a quiet, uncomfortable woman who is clearly not used to being in, nor comfortable being in, the spotlight. I would love to be able to see Jolie’s take on one of our only First Ladies in modern history who didn’t take a huge, active role on the campaign trail for her husband.
12) Margot Robbie as Ivanka Trump
I know Donald Trump has five children, but I’m only choosing to cast the one whom it appears – from the outside looking in – he’s closest with.
Whether or not you like her or her father, there is no denying Ivanka Trump is beautiful, successful, extremely intelligent, and devoted to her family. The first actress who immediately came to mind for the role was Margot Robbie, who portrayed a beautiful, wealthy, intelligent woman in The Wolf of Wall Street. I think she’d nail the role of Ivanka, and would give a fascinating performance playing one of Donald Trump’s biggest female surrogates and defenders.
13) Kathy Bates as Jane Sanders
Jane Sanders played an interesting role in Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Not only was she always on the trail with him, stumping for him, giving interviews on his behalf, etc., but she – at least publicly – also seemed to take Bernie’s primary loss a lot harder than Bernie himself did.
Kathy Bates, who is as acclaimed an actress as any other performer on this list, would be great in the role of Bernie Sanders’ greatest defender. Not only has she played many down-to-earth, “plain” characters in the past, but I also believe she’d be able to perfectly convey a doting, supportive wife with an underlying bitterness at the way the media, the opposition, and general detractors treated her husband.
Like I said above, there are so many more people closely involved with the election cycle of 2016 – campaign staffs, advisors, members of the press, other government officials – that it would have been impossible for me to “fan cast” them all without this article being ridiculously long. What do you think of the choices I made for the ones I did cast, however? Would you change any of them? Are you looking forward to HBO’s miniseries on the Election of 2016 next year? Leave a comment below and let me know!