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Recasting a Classic: Gone with the Wind

Updated on January 20, 2012
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Today I forced my movie buff boyfriend to watch Gone with the Wind, arguably the greatest movie of all time, because A) he had never seen it, B) he loves the Civil War and C) he loves history. While watching, he complained and said that when it gets remade they need to do it better.

Besides my disgust at his lack of appreciation for one of my favorite movies ever, I argued that there are some movies that cannot be redone - they are too epically classic to change. Movies like Star Wars and Gone with the Wind will never be touched again. This discussion led to a great game of "What if...?" where we and others decided to cast the remake of the movie with current Hollywood actors.

Vivien Leigh, the original Scarlett
Vivien Leigh, the original Scarlett | Source

The role of Scarlett is the most important casting decision, just as it was with the original movie. David O. Selznick, the producer and machine behind the movie, auditioned every major, minor, and nonexistent actress there was for the role. Vivien Leigh, a young British actress, was desperate to play Scarlett. Even with the odds against her, she swore the role would be hers. Her casting is one of the great old Hollywood stories.

They had begun filming Gone with the Wind despite having not cast their female lead. The first scene they shot was the burning of Atlanta. Vivien Leigh was introduced to Selznick amidst the flames and he fell in love with her for the role of Scarlett. That night, she became the front runner, even though at first she had a poor Southern accent and had gone through none of the auditions or fittings.

Vivien Leigh won the role and, even though halfway through shooting she was miserable and wanted to stop, she portrayed the perfect Scarlett. In the novel, a lot of what the reader learns about Scarlett's character comes out while reading her internal thoughts. Since the movie was not going to do a voice over narration, Vivien Leigh had to portray through facial expressions every scheming, plotting, and desperate thoughts. She did so magnificently, perfectly matching the book, and won an Oscar for her portrayal.

Scarlett Johannson
Scarlett Johannson | Source

Therefore, the discussion of which modern day actress would play Scarlett was a heated one. The most obvious choice was Scarlett Johannson, but she seems to have two character tracts - devious sex bomb and shy meek girl. There is none of the balance which Vivien Leigh portrayed.

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman | Source

Next on the list was Natalie Portman. Even though her acting in Black Swan was amazing with that balance between good and evil, I feel like Natalie Portman still has too much innocence to her face to portray the maturity Scarlett gains, along with the sexuality.

Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis | Source

Since I rejected Natalie Portman, the next closest choice was Mila Kunis. I thought for sure she would be cast as the perfect Scarlett, except for the fact that she is unfortunately too dark toned to play a porcelain Southern Belle. That, and I feel like she would have more problems with a Southern accent than Vivien Leigh did originally.

The winner - Kate Beckinsale
The winner - Kate Beckinsale | Source

After much discussion, the final choice and clear winner was Kate Beckinsale. She has the looks, the acting chops, the sex appeal with the ability to turn on the innocence, and shrewd scheming. She's exotic while retaining the Southern look and her face is perfect with her slanted cat eyes and slanted cheekbones. The only flaw I have with her is she may be too old to play Scarlett, but otherwise she is perfection.

Clark Gable as the original Rhett
Clark Gable as the original Rhett | Source

In spite of the fact he refused to do a Southern accent, Clark Gable plays a perfectly suave, sexy, smirking, and sly Rhett Butler. To fill his shoes would be difficult, and I am still unsure of who is the front runner to play him.

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey | Source
George Clooney
George Clooney | Source

My two runners-up for the role of Rhett go to George Clooney and Matthew McConaughey.

George Clooney would be the perfect guy to play Rhett. He has the looks, the charm, the smirk, and can do playful and serious seamlessly. My only issue with him is his age. Clooney is way too old to play Rhett. He would have been perfect around his Batman role. Now his age is pushing it.

Matthew McConaughey definitely has the Southern down. He has the intense gaze and the smirk. After seeing Lincoln Lawyer and A Time to Kill, I know he can be both serious and playful. My problem with him is I feel like McConaughey has become too much of a character to play someone that iconic. I could easily be dissuaded by this notion with a good argument in his favor, but for now that's my stance.

Timothy Olyphant (there are better pictures of him that prove my point, but in this one he is wearing period clothes and has a mustache. I couldn't resist).
Timothy Olyphant (there are better pictures of him that prove my point, but in this one he is wearing period clothes and has a mustache. I couldn't resist). | Source
Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler | Source

My two front runners for the role of Rhett go to Gerard Butler and Timothy Olyphant. Both of these guys, I feel, have great potential. Butler has an acting range I feel he hasn't explored enough. It was seen in The Phantom of the Opera and P.S. I Love You, but his movie choices are making him look comical. Olyphant has the advantage of being relatively unknown compared to other superstars. Playing Rhett could be an opportunity to stretch his wings a little. I think they both could do a lot with the role.

Here are my problems with each of them. Butler would actually have to tone down the rogue a little bit, along with his body. He is slightly too thick to be Rhett, so he would have to slim all of it down. Not the ripped 300 guy, just slimmly toned. Olyphant would need to make himself more into a character. He has done well simply acting, but hasn't put enough memorable moments into his characters to make his name stand out. Rhett is expressive while still remaining cool and confident. Olyphant would need to work on that.

Ashley Wilkes, as played by Leslie Howard, showing his tortured side.
Ashley Wilkes, as played by Leslie Howard, showing his tortured side. | Source
Ashley Wilkes showing his dreamy whimsical side.
Ashley Wilkes showing his dreamy whimsical side. | Source

Leslie Howard did a wonderful job blending all the intricacies about Ashley Wilkes from the novel onto the screen. He made Ashley romantically unattainable so Scarlett would have a motivation for pining after him for years. He showed Ashley's soft, dreamy side before the war and shifted to his tired, tortured side after the war, waxing poetics the entire time. Leslie Howard was able to do this so well because of his extensive Shakespearean training on the stage. It would be hard to find an actor in today's day and age able to blend those roller coaster personality traits.

Michael Fassbender playing a lighter side.
Michael Fassbender playing a lighter side. | Source
Michael Fassbender looking tortured.
Michael Fassbender looking tortured. | Source

Michael Fassbender came out as a leading choice to play Ashley after much, much reflection. Not only does he have the look, but he has played all of the traits of Ashley throughout various roles. While audiences have seen his expression looking fierce and dangerous in X-Men: First Class, Fassbender can also nail the puppy dog Ashley eyes in movies like Jane Eyre. He has all the great qualities that can pull off Ashley Wilkes.

Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson | Source
Jude Law
Jude Law | Source

I threw in two runner ups, Jude Law and Robert Pattinson, just to cover bases. Jude Law looks so much like Leslie Howard and can definitely do the puppy eye romantic role. I think he may be slightly too famous to play the role. Robert Pattinson definitely has the romantics down and will make it easy for audiences to believe Scarlett is able to pine after Ashley for years and years. I also believe his acting has great potential. My biggest problem is he may be too attractive to play Ashley. Whoever plays him cannot be more attractive or sexier than Rhett.

Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes as played by Olivia de Havilland.
Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes as played by Olivia de Havilland. | Source
Mammy as played by Hattie McDaniel.
Mammy as played by Hattie McDaniel. | Source

The other very important roles to cast would be Melanie Hamilton and Mammy. These roles are almost too easy to cast and I couldn't come up with specific actors that would be perfect. Melanie could be played by literally any actress today. It does not matter who. Mammy I could see being played by so many specific actresses I could not list them all. Also, the actresses I keep casting in my head are ones who have done similar roles (like any of the maids from The Help).

I would really love to know what you think about these casting choices or if you have any ideas of your own. It's quite fun being the casting director for an imaginary movie, so give it a whirl!

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    • profile image

      Nancy Lemmon 6 months ago

      Rhett Butler: Colin Firth

      Scarlett O'Hara: Anne Hathaway

      Ashley Wilkes: Ralph Fiennes

      Melanie Hamilton: Amy Adams

      Aunt Pittypat: Shirley MacLaine

      Mammy: Oprah Winfrey/Queen Latifah

      Pork: Forest Whitaker

      Prissy: Jennifer Hudson

      Big Sam: Djimon Hounsou

    • profile image

      Bantana 18 months ago

      I thought of all your choices for scarlet but still none of them seem right. I think there have been three women who could pull off scarlet. Vivienne Leigh, of course, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jane Seymore. But obviously that can't happen now.

      And I agree with micmac. The first person I thought of to play Rhett was Michael Fassbender. He has such control and such a commanding presence , but he also can show vulnerability and so much passion that he makes you feel what his character is feeling. Weak, limp Ashley who bends to anyone's will, never goes after what he really wants, and allows Scarlet to take care of everything would be an insult to such a man as Micheal Fassbender.

      But like you and others have said, I don't know if it would be right to ever remake Gone With The Wind. It was perfect the first time round, so why mess with it.

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      morgan 19 months ago

      They never will do better than the first one.You say your boyfriend is a movie buff?What is his favorite movie"The Flintstones Do Vegas?

    • profile image

      micmac 3 years ago

      Jessica Chastain as Scarlett!!!!!!!

      I personally think Fassbender could be an amazing Rhett, and James McAvoy would be a perfect Ashley.

      Melanie....Rooney Mara?

    • profile image

      Kseniya 4 years ago

      I've just finished reading GWTW... Gerard Butler is really a good idea for Rhett)) maybe Hugh Jackman can be a good one for Rhett

      I would like to see a modern version of GWTW though will always love 1939 film

    • profile image

      Lovethatbook 4 years ago

      Scarlett-Bryce Dallas Howard

      Rett-Unknown Actor

      Ashley-Ryan Gosling

      Mrs. O'hara-Catherine Zeta-Jones

      Mr. O'hara- Toby Jones

      Melanie-Emme Rossam

      Bell Wattling-Chrisitina Hendricks

    • profile image

      Lovethatbook 4 years ago

      Scarlett-Bryce Dallas Howard

      Rett-Unknown Actor

      Ashley-Ryan Gosling

      Mrs. O'hara-Catherine Zeta-Jones

      Mr. O'hara- Toby Jones

      Melanie-Emme Rossam

    • Faith A Mullen profile image

      Faith A Mullen 4 years ago

      You are totally right. Gone With the Wind simply cannot be touched. It was perfect! Fun to imagine who would play the parts now though, and if it ever was remade, you know we would all have to see it :)

    • profile image

      katiescarlett9 4 years ago

      I have always been a GWTW purist ( read the book apx 10times , probably saw the film 30 times) but IT.IS .TIME. The remake MUST be made and be more true to the book. It must be more faithful to Margaret Mitchell's well developed characters and her recount of post civil war and reconstruction atmosphere. Regardless of current popular opinions the show must go on.

      My vote for Scarlett = Keira Knightly (she has no idea the honor I bestow her though I greatly admire her performances)

      Rhett - Gerard Butler - Swarthy...yet able to show sensitivity

      Ashley-Brad Pitt - because he is handsome but weak and unable to defend even a mouse.

      I am open to the casting of Melanie. ODH played her marvelously in 1939 and I can't think of an actress today who could play Mel any better....but she must be out there somewhere..

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      Ashley 5 years ago

      I'm praying that they NEVER re-do GWTW. But if I had to pick which actor for which role it would be.

      Scarlett: Scarlett Johannson

      Rhett: Gerard Butler (Not just because he's hot, but look at the last name. I mean come on lol. What a fit)

      Ashley: Jude Law

      Melanie: ? Yeah that one is hard to pick lol.

      Mammy: Octavia Spencer she was good in the Help.

      India Wilkes: Bryce Dallas Howard she was such a B**** in the Help.

    • profile image

      FutureDrKate 5 years ago

      Nice hub! I have yet to see the movie but I loved the book and absolutely agree about the casting of scarlet being very difficult. Thanks!