Tom Wopat in: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

as: Aragorn

Viggo Mortensen, the actor who ultimately portrayed Aragorn in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy, did a mighty fine job. He was so into the character, according to interviews in the films’ DVD special features, that he would carry his sword with him at all times (even after shooting wrapped for the day), he learned the entire Elvish language J.R.R. Tolkien created (as opposed to just learning his few Elvish lines phonetically), and, after production, he bought the horse that he rode in the second and third films. And, he was just the right amount of “unknown actor” that he’s been hard-pressed to shake the “Hey, you’re Aragorn” thing in later roles; it’s equally hard to imagine anyone else playing the part.

However, Mortensen was not the filmmakers’ first choice—an equally (mostly) unknown actor named Stuart Townsend initially won the part. After four days of filming, director Peter Jackson recast Mortensen in the role, feeling that Townsend was too young the character who would become King of Middle Earth.

Tom Wopat is eight years older than Viggo Mortensen (in the films—and the books, of course—the character is 87). And he would have been a perfect choice to play Aragorn.

That could be a Tom Wopat action figure.

That could be a Tom Wopat action figure.

Key Changes

At the time the films were released, Tom Wopat would’ve been one of the more widely-known members of the cast—not necessarily by name, but most people would’ve recognized Luke Duke amongst the Fellowship before probably 90 percent of the other actors. This would likely have changed the dynamic of the film somewhat—Aragorn is one of the trilogy’s most important characters as is, but with a more famous face, he probably would have received an even larger allotment of screen time.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tom Wopat with a beard, but I doubt it would’ve been a problem for him to grow the appropriate amount of facial hair for the role. There’s always makeup, too, if actually growing a beard was out of the question. And—if we want to get down to the real nerdy nuts-and-bolts of the character—Aragorn wasn’t actually supposed to have a beard, anyway. In Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, it specifically states that he doesn’t, due to his half-Elven heritage (for whatever reason, Tolkien elves don’t grow facial hair).

Other than that, not much would need to be different. In hair color, height, and build, Wopat and Mortensen are pretty much Even Stevens. Both have recorded and released a number of music albums, and for my money, Wopat has the better voice, which would have made the few scenes in which Aragorn sings more enjoyable.

Photo credit: Dean Lin / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Tom Wopat in: Cheers

“This post was written before a live studio audience.”

as: Sam Malone

Cheers is one of the most beloved television programs of all time, and Ted Danson’s portrayal of Sam Malone was undeniably a huge part of the show’s success. Danson won two Emmys and two Golden Globes for his performance.

Though it’s now quite hard to imagine anyone else in the role, several other actors auditioned for the part first, including Ed O’Neill (who later played Al Bundy in Married…with Children and Jay Pritchett on Modern Family), William Devane (now famous for his role on Knots Landing, among other things), and former NFL player Fred Dryer. John Lithgow missed his scheduled audition due to illness (what a different show that would have been).

What if Tom Wopat had jumped ship from The Dukes of Hazzard after its second season and won the role of “Mayday” Malone?

Perhaps the most welcoming sight in TV history.

Perhaps the most welcoming sight in TV history.

Key Changes

To be honest, the Sam Malone part wouldn’t have needed many changes with Wopat instead of Danson. Wopat is a few years younger than Danson, but that likely wouldn’t’ve made any difference for the character. Wopat certainly had the right build to portray a former major league baseball player.

One thing that would have been different is the hair. Now, it cannot be denied that Sam Malone sported a glorious, manly mane throughout Cheers’ run. But, in reality, Ted Danson wore a hairpiece for much of that time; Sam ultimately revealed his baldness to Carla in the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top”. Tom Wopat has no such follicular impairment—in the ‘80s, the guy had hair for days. He still does, of course, it’s just considerably more tame at present.

Another, considerably larger change to the show: Diane never would have left. Tom Wopat’s Sam Malone just would’ve been too derned good looking and suave for it believable that any woman would want to leave him behind. Unfortunately, this would’ve made Cheers a far lesser show, as I feel that it was far better with Kirstie Alley in the cast. (Or, alternately, without Shelley Long in the cast.)

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Tom Wopat in: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

as: Willy Wonka

Please note that this Wopatization is for the 2005, Tim Burton-directed version of the story. The original, far superior Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder in the title role, is beyond reproach.

In this case, we’d replace Johnny Depp’s bizarre, misguided take on the character with a much more measured, but still stylized, portrayal by (of course) Tom Wopat.

Key Changes

Wopat’s Wonka (Willy Wopat?) would be less of a Michael Jackson-esque weirdo and more in line with Wilder’s interpretation from 1971. No Prince Valiant haircut, no disturbingly perfect teeth, no squeaky voice. Costuming would remain largely the same, and the overall story would be essentially the same, but we’d eliminate the strange and unnecessary “Wonka’s father was a dentist” backstory thing. We’d also add a few new wrinkles and a gag or two that draw on Wopat’s most famous prior role.

Also, all the Oompa-Loompas look like Boss Hogg.

Setting a new record for Williest Wonka.

Setting a new record for Williest Wonka.

Representative Scene: Veruca Salt & The Chocolate Factory’s Pneumatic Conveyors

After Augustus Gloop falls into the river of chocolate and Violet Beauregard turns violet, Veruca Salt comes across the Chocolate Factory’s squirrels, who are tasked with removing “bad nuts” from the good ones that will eventually go into Wonka’s chocolate bars. Veruca, being the spoiled rich kid she is, decides she wants one of the trained squirrels for her very own.

The squirrels don’t take kindly to these shenanigans and take matters into their own paws. (Here’s where we deviate from the script a bit.) Rather than let the squirrels be all evil and attack-y, Willy Wopat intervenes and prevents them from sending Veruca down the “bad nut” trash chute. Unpredictable critters that they are, the whole scurry takes up the offensive against Wonka and his visitors.

Using his Dukes of Hazzard stunt and fight training, Wopat engages the enraged squirrels in hand to paw combat. With a right hook here and a spin kick there, he’s dispatching the squirrels in rapid fashion. Though Willy Wopat is the only one actively fighting the squirrels, they are clearly intent on attacking the young Ms. Salt. The woodland critters’ sheer numbers quickly become too great to withstand.

Rather than continuing to battle the squirrels, Willy Wopat instead shuffles Veruca over to a nearby giant tube with a curiously kid-sized and –shaped opening. It’s the same pneumatic conveying system that pulled Augustus from the chocolate reservoir, and as soon as Veruca’s inside, Wonka slides a previously-hidden panel closed and shwoop! Off she goes into the bowels of the Chocolate Factory, never to be seen again…

…until the end of the movie when they trot out all the kids to show that they weren’t really hurt or killed or anything, because it’s a family movie.

Photo credit: @DrGarcia / Foter / CC BY-NC

Tom Wopat in: Terminator 2

as: Miles Dyson

Let us preface this by saying that we strongly dislike the Terminator movies. We don’t object to the violence or the salty language; no, we object to the fact that the basic premise of the series is stupid.

If Skynet and their robotic minions are so smart, why did they make their cyborgs—which are initially intended to infiltrate the human resistance and wipe it out from the inside—all look alike, and more than that, make them all look like an easily recognizable person?“Hey,” a human resistance fighter says as another perfectly-muscled stranger strides up to their camp, “isn’t that the same meathead who tried to infiltrate the human resistance and wipe us out from the inside last week?” If, for whatever reason, the Terminators did all have to look the same, wouldn’t it have worked better if they looked like average dudes?

Also: if your cyborgs are meant to blend in with your enemy, and the majority of the fighting apparently takes place in (the ruins of) America, why give them thick Austrian accents?

With that in mind, we dreamed up a scenario in which Tom Wopat, stepping into Joe Morton’s role, makes one small choice that ultimately ends the series at its logical conclusion (the end of the second movie).

LASERDISC SIGHTING!

LASERDISC SIGHTING!

Key Changes

Rather than changes based on the actor playing the role, the Wopatized Terminator 2 would change the path the character takes. This change could easily have been made with Morton still in the role, but if we’re going to have an actor save us from two (soon to be three—and counting) lousy sequels and a short-lived, easily-forgotten TV series, it might as well be Tom Wopat, right? Right.

The Wopatized film progresses exactly as the original version up until Arnold Schwarzenegger leads John Connor, Sarah Connor, and Wopat’s Miles Dyson to Cyberdyne Systems’ headquarters. There, instead of destroying the remaining components of the destroyed Terminator from the first film, he simply alters all the blueprints and data that Cyberdyne has thus far developed toward the creation of new cyborgs.

He doesn’t even need to make significant changes. By simply altering the designs so that each component is a tenth of an inch off from its original dimensions, it would completely screw everything up. Parts for the prototype Terminators would come back from the short run stampers and nothing would fit right.

Instead of blowing himself up in a gigantic fireball that takes half the building with him, Wopat/Dyson could just keep fudging the information every month or so. Just like five or six different parts (out of probably thousands) every time—not enough so it’s easily noticeable sabotage, but enough to keep the machine from being assembled correctly. Eventually, the Cyberdyne bigwigs would tire of wasting money on a project that is going nowhere, and would cancel the whole thing.

Granted, this tactic wouldn’t help defeat the evil, shapeshifting T-1000, but hey, that’s what Arnie’s there for.

Photo credit: kosheahan / Foter / CC BY

Tom Wopat in: Batman (the Tim Burton version)

as: Batman/Bruce Wayne

When it was first announced that Michael Keaton would play the role of the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s Batman, Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, received roughly fifty thousand letters of complaint. Keaton was far and away not the right man for the role. While Keaton’s performance ultimately proved these early critics wrong, we still think there’s one actor who would’ve been even better. (Bet you can’t guess who we’re thinking of!)

Fun/interesting fact: Michael Keaton is four days older than Tom Wopat.

"I'm Wobatman."

“I’m Wobatman.”

Key Changes

The first, and most obvious, change with Tom Wopat playing Batman (and his secret identity, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne) is that this Batman would be much more in line with the roguishly handsome, athletic, and rugged character depicted in the comic books. One of the complaints about Keaton playing the role was that he was not a “traditionally” good looking chap—Wopat is about as traditionally good looking a guy as you’ll ever find.

Additionally, Wopat’s stunt-fighting work on The Dukes of Hazzard would have made him more convincing in Batman’s action scenes. Keaton (and/or his stuntman) certainly did an admirable job in the film, but Wopat’s history of kicking butt on camera would’ve given the fight scenes a little more credence.

Casting Tom Wopat as Batman (Wobat) would’ve also created a sort-of crossover between two of the most iconic pop culture automobiles of all time. While the Wobatmobile certainly wouldn’t have been painted bright orange or featured a “Dixie” horn blast, seeing Luke Duke behind the wheel would’ve been an unforgettable sight.

And, while Batman’s driving in the film is precise and controlled, a loosey-goosey, Duke Boys style of driving would’ve been more believable, in my opinion. No one could make such tight, perfect turns at high speeds as those depicted in Batman. With a Batmobile that long (over 21 feet from nose to tailfins) and powerful (0-60 MPH in 3.7 seconds), fishtailing would’ve been all but inevitable.

Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter / CC BY

Tom Wopat in: Futurama

as: Himself (Head in A Jar)

The brilliant, yet woefully underappreciated, animated sci-fi sitcom Futurama had more than its share of celebrity guest stars during its run. Despite being set 1,000 years in the future, the show brought in such modern-day figures as Al Gore, Beck, and the entire cast of the original Star Trek series—and all of them played themselves.

Well, technically they played their still-living, detached heads in jars, which was one of the series’ most used (and least explained) futuristic technological advancements. Even historical figures who, in reality, died many years before the show began—and, therefore, prior to the in-series invention of technology that keeps heads alive in jars—popped up from time to time.

So, why not Wopat?

Episode: Good Ole Bots

Futurama’s protagonist, Philip J. Fry (usually called just “Fry”), was an ‘80s kid who was accidentally cryogenically frozen on New Year’s Eve 1999 and unfrozen on New Year’s Day 3000. Fry’s penchant for the pop culture of his youth came into play in a number of episodes, encompassing everything from his days in a breakdancing crew to his love of Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine.”

futurama

In “Good Ole Bots”, Fry and the Planet Express gang would attend a fundraising gala at the Smithsonian. An auction is held to clear out some of the museum’s older exhibit pieces (a thousand years in the future, they have more stuff than they know what to do with) to make way for new items of historical significance.

Fry is delighted to learn that the original General Lee is one of the items to be auctioned off. Few, if any, people in the year 3000 share Fry’s enthusiasm for The Dukes of Hazzard, so he wins it with a bid of $28 (every penny he currently has to his name).

After the event, Fry’s co-worker/love interest Leela suggests that they load the General Lee into the cargo bay of the Planet Express ship and simply fly it back to New New York. Fry has other plans, however—as it was and is one of the greatest automobiles in television history, he wants to drive it back home from Washington D.C. Bender, the lovable, beer-swilling, cigar-smoking robot, decides to join him on his road trip.

Shortly after they set out, Fry and Bender hear unusual noises coming from the trunk of the car. They pull over, open the trunk, and discover living-head-in-a-jar versions of Tom Wopat and John Schneider inside. They explain that they (in their jars) have been in the Smithsonian just as long as the General Lee, as part of the same exhibit. Eventually, they were placed in the trunk to save space and forgotten about.

Now riding in the front seat between Fry (driving) and Bender (shotgun), the erstwhile Duke boys regale their new friends with tales of their TV adventures. This inspires a typically-mischievous Bender plot: he convinces Fry that the two of them should run a load of moonshine north as they go. Unsurprisingly, Bender “knows a guy” in the moonshining business.

Numerous hijinks ensue, with the quartet dodging local law enforcement (a robot sheriff that closely resembles a certain Rosco P. Coltrane, along with his deputies), rival bootleggers, and an amorous ladybot with eyes for Bender en route to Planet Express headquarters.

Ultimately, Fry, Bender, Wopat, and Schneider find themselves in a high speed chase with the sheriffbot in hot pursuit. By a happy coincidence, a road construction project on the streets of New New York has created an ersatz ramp. Fry guns the engine, the General Lee goes airborne, and, just as the four of them are about to crash into the Planet Express building, the scene freeze-frames.

“Looks like them Duke boys have got themselves out of the frying pan,” The Balladeer chimes in, “and into the fire.”

End credits.

Photo credit: ¡¡¡!!! / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Tom Wopat in: The Mighty Ducks

as Hans the Hockey Guru

It may seem as though Tom Wopat is better suited, age- and acting style-wise, for the Gordon Bombay role in The Mighty Ducks. But Emilio Estevez owned that role so hard that it’s nigh impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part. I actually tried to write a “Wopat as Gordon Bombay” post, but I couldn’t get past the first sentence. Emilio Estevez is and ever shall be Gordon Bombay.

That said, Tom Wopat would make a valuable addition to the roster of stars in this family-friendly hockey classic. Joss Ackland is undeniably great as Hans, Gordon’s almost Yoda-like mentor on matters of hockey and the heart. But, Wopat could’ve turned the role into something truly unforgettable.

Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack! Quack! QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! GOOOOOO DUCKS!!!

Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack! Quack! QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! GOOOOOO DUCKS!!!

Key Changes

First off, instead of being a wise, older, family friend of Gordon’s, Hans Wopat would be a wise former peewee hockey teammate who went on to play in the NHL. Naturally, he played for the Minnesota North Stars, and after his career was over, he started building his sporting goods empire in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie (home of the District 5 peewee team that Gordon coaches).

Second, Hans Wopat would get in on the good time hockey shenanigans, taking a part-time role as an assistant coach. This would give Gordon somebody his own age to consult with during games, instead of just stupid whiny Charlie Conway. It would also allow the writers to add more adult—but still family-friendly—humor to the script.

During a mid-season match against the Hawks, the Ducks’ hated rivals, Hawks coach Jack Reilly orders two of this team’s thugs to take out new Duck (and former Hawk) Adam Banks with a cheap shot. After the damage is done, Hans Wopat bolts from the Ducks’ bench and takes out Reilly with a spinning, Luke Duke-esque karate kick. Hans is then escorted from the hockey arena in handcuffs and is never seen nor heard from again.

Photo credit: goaliej54 / Foter / CC BY-SA

Tom Wopat in: The Back to the Future Trilogy

as: Biff Tannen

Wopat as the villain? Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen is one of the all-time great movie bad guys—you couldn’t say he’s a villain, exactly, just a massive jerk who has a way with the word “butthead.” And great though Thomas F. Wilson was in the role, we think Tom Wopat would’ve given it a little something extra by not only making Biff a jerk, but a good-looking jerk. (Which is the very worst kind.)

Wopat would, of course, portray the young, middle-aged, and elderly versions of Biff through the magic of movie makeup. He would also play Griff Tannen in Back to the Future Part II and Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in Back to the Future Part III.

Representative Scene: Café Kerfuffle & Skateboard Chase

Time-traveler Marty (Michael J. Fox) and George McFly (Crispin Glover) are at the counter at Lou’s Café, going over a plan for George to win the heart of Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson). In walks Biff (Tom Wopat) and his gang of teenage ne’er-do-wells.

“Hey McFly,” Biff Wopat yells to George, “I thought I told you never to come in here. Well, it’s gonna cost you. How much money you got on you?”

Biff and his spectacular hair advance menacingly toward George, but Marty sticks his leg out and trips him. Biff is quickly back on his feet and now stands towering over the much, much shorter Marty.

“All right, punk,” says Tom Wopat as Biff, “now I’m gonna—”

“Whoa, Biff,” Marty says, pointing out the window over Biff’s shoulder. “What’s that?”

Biff is momentarily distracted, and Marty suckerpunches him in the face. Using the catlike reflexes he displayed in his action scenes in The Dukes of Hazzard, Wopat counters with a jab of his own, then sends Marty flying through the window with a spinning karate kick.

No match for the General Lee.

Pictured: No match for the General Lee.

Marty quickly gets back to his feet, shaking shards of broken glass off his jacket. He spots a kid riding a homemade scooter down the street. Marty stops the kid, commandeers the scooter, and breaks it apart, creating a rudimentary skateboard. “I’ll get it back to you, all right?” he says as he skates out of frame.

Biff Wopat and crew emerge from the diner to chase Marty down on foot. With the help of his skateboard and a passing truck, Marty quickly outdistances them. Biff et al get in Biff’s car, a 1946 Ford Super De Luxe convertible, inexplicably painted bright orange and with “01” stenciled on the side.

Biff and company now give chase through the streets of Hill Valley, though Marty continues to elude them. When it appears the bad guys finally have Marty dead to rights, he escapes and sends the Ford barreling into a parked manure truck.

Instead of swerving and crashing broadside into the truck (as in the original film), Biff Wopat guns the engine. The truck’s bed is tilted upward to facilitate the unloading of manure (used as fertilizer), and Wopat uses it to ramp off of, sending his car flying through the air where it lands safely on the other side. He and his goons survive to torment Marty and George another day (of course).

Photo credit: JD Hancock / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Tom Wopat in: MacGyver

as: Angus MacGyver (Who else?)

The timing of this one would’ve been perfect, as MacGyver began airing in the fall of 1985, after The Dukes of Hazzard had wrapped up its run in the spring of that year. Sure, Richard Dean Anderson would’ve been out of a job, but with Tom Wopat in the Angus MacGyver role, who would’ve missed him?

No one, that’s who. Wopat FTW!

Representative Scene: Opening Gambit

Obviously, for anyone to be a true MacGyver, they’ve got to do some MacGyvering. Anderson did a more than admirable job of this, as he basically invented it, but we think Tom Wopat could’ve been even better. The two actors share a similar physicality, and at the time had equally spectacular ‘80s hair. Luke Duke knew a thing or two about tinkering, having customized the General Lee to the hilt, so Wopat would likely have felt right at home rocking the Swiss Army Knife.

MacGyver’s “Opening Gambits” are the show’s cold opens where MacGyver MacGyvers his way out of a jam prior to the opening credits. Because they’re largely context-free, with MacGyver already elbow-deep in a mission, the Opening Gambits are a great place to start imagining Wopat in the role.

Finding himself locked in a cluttered storage room by an unnamed villain, MacWopat must free himself using only what is readily available around him (as the character so often must).

The only tool you'll ever need.

The only tool you’ll ever need.

Though he can’t just pick the dang lock, Tom MacGyver manages to unbolt a lengthy section of the room’s tubular ventilation shaft using just his bare hands. With a wide nylon packing strap he finds on one of the room’s many shelves, he secures the vent tube to a stack of wooden pallets.

MacWopat then stuffs a full beer keg, one of many stored in the corner of the room, into one end of the tube. The other end is pointed at the room’s sole door. He somehow unscrews the pressure gauge from the boiler (because of course that would be in the room, too) and jury rigs it onto the keg’s bunghole.

Using his sweet karate moves, our hero then smashes some of the wooden planks from the shelves into kindling, which he places into a handy metal bucket. He pours out a few bottles of whiskey onto the wood to help it light. However, Wopat then realizes he is sans fire starter. Fortunately, an overflowing ashcan yields a pack of matches.

Placing his bucket of kindling under the exposed end of the keg, MacWopat sets the wood and booze aflame. He watches as the pressure gauge slowly makes its way into the red. When he determines the time is right, Wopat gives the pressure gauge a swift kick. It snaps off, and the resulting jet of superheated beer sends the keg rocketing into the door, smashing it to splinters.

MacWopat escapes into the night. Roll opening credits.

Photo credit: Charles Williams / Foter / CC BY

Tom Wopat in: Magnum, P.I.

As: Higgins–just kidding! As Thomas Magnum, duh.

The original run of Magnum, P.I. of course overlapped with that of The Dukes of Hazzard. But in an alternate universe, Tom Wopat was available for both series. As the titular character in Magnum, P.I., he would’ve given the character the same laid-back, easygoing sensibility that Tom Selleck did, but with more made-for-Hawaii good looks.

Wopat as Magnum would also have eliminated the scheduling conflict that caused Selleck to miss out on the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What a different world American cinema would’ve been had Tom Selleck become as massive a movie star as Harrison Ford did following that film’s success.

Key Changes

For one, it’s doubtful that Wopat would’ve worn a ‘stache like Selleck’s. That seems to have been brought to the character solely by Selleck—Magnum wasn’t necessarily written as having a mustache.

Man, Tom Selleck has really let himself go.

Man, Tom Selleck has really let himself go.

Second, Magnum’s Detroit Tigers baseball cap would likely have been replaced with a Milwaukee Brewers one. Selleck, having been raised in Detroit, also added that touch himself. (If memory serves, the pilot script had the character in a New York Yankees hat.) Wopat, born in Lodi, Wisconsin, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is more than likely a Brewers fan.

Also, while Tom Selleck’s Thomas Magnum wore Aloha shirts almost exclusively, Tom Wopat’s Thomas Magnum would probably have appeared shirtless much more often. The weather in Hawaii is certainly conducive to this, as are Wopat’s dashing good looks. The show got good to great ratings as it was; with every episode featuring scenes with a shirtless Tom Wopat, ratings would’ve been through the roof!

Additionally, while Selleck certainly had his share of rough-and-tumble exploits as Magnum, Wopat’s stunt work in Dukes suggests the even more action-oriented Magnum, P.I. that could’ve been. I know I saw a few karate moves in Luke Duke’s fightin’ repertoire—imagine Thomas Magnum spin kicking a guy right into the ocean!

Other than those few tweaks, the show could’ve been largely the same. Except ten times better, because Tom Wopat.

Photo credit: heldermira / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)