The Most Ingenious Re-Casting Decisions in Movie History

Men in Black III will roll into your local cineplex tomorrow (or tonight, probably), and while it is a film with some problems, there’s one element of it we can wholeheartedly endorse: Josh Brolin’s performance as young “Agent K,” the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the first two MIB pictures (and part of this one). Brolin, who co-starred with Jones in No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah (though they shared no scenes), not only has the older actor’s vocal inflections down cold — he also nails TLJ’s no-nonsense attitude and dry comic timing. But even more impressively, it’s not just a great impersonation; he transcends the limitations of mere impression and creates a wonderful performance, making room within the established character for his own touches. That’s a tough job to do, and not one that has been done successfully all that often. After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few other actors that pulled it off.

Robert DeNiro as Young Vito Corleone, The Godfather Part II (1974)

As we’ve mentioned, Robert DeNiro’s audition for the original Godfather was so electrifying, he was very nearly cast in the role of Sonny, though it ultimately went to Coppola’s original choice, James Caan. But the filmmaker kept DeNiro’s audition in the back of his mind, and two years later, when he was working through the rather radical notion of making Godfather II with a parallel timeline construction contrasting Michael in the 1950s with Vito in the 1920s, he hit upon the idea of having DeNiro play young Vito Corleone — the role that had won Marlon Brando an Oscar. DeNiro studied Pacino’s performance, and even went to the dentist who’d made Brando’s mouthpiece for the role to get a smaller one for himself. But he manages to capture the spirit of Brando’s iconic performance without ever resorting to anything as craven as mere imitation. He gets at the soul of the man and the journey he takes, seemingly realizing that Don Vito’s character development in Godfather II matches his son’s in the previous film — a good, honest man who is drawn by circumstance to a life of crime, and finds that he has a gift for it.