Action and/or Adventure, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy

Tom Wopat in: The Matrix Trilogy

as: Morpheus

The Matrix trilogy is kind of a mixed bag. The first flick holds up pretty well, even 15-plus years later, despite how dated the then-cutting edge technology now seems. The sequels are extremely hit-or-miss, however—the action sequences are still impressive (for the most part), but the would-be “philosophy” that runs through the storylines of both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions seems even weirder and more heavy-handed now than it did at the time.

Another part of the Matrix series that falls into the hit-or-miss category is Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus. As the Merlin to the Arthur that was Keanu Reeves’ Neo, Fishburne delivers the right levels of gravitas in the films’ more serious moments, but his Morpheus seems to have no other setting. Even when things are going well, and he and his crew are celebrating victories over their sentient robot overlords, the erstwhile Cowboy Curtis sports the same dour, unsmiling countenance he wears in the heaviest of the movies’ scenes.

Part of this can surely be chalked up to the writing—the Wachowskis ain’t exactly Shakespeare. But with just a few different choices, Fishburne could’ve given Morpheus more of a “human” side with, you know, emotions and stuff. Reportedly, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson were also considered for the role. You know where we’re going with this…

"You take the blue pill, and Laurence Fishburne is Morpheus. Take the red pill, and it's Tom Wopat.

“You take the blue pill, and Laurence Fishburne is Morpheus. Take the red pill, and it’s Tom Wopat.

Key Changes

Tom Wopat would’ve been just the guy to play Morpheus. He’s got the dramatic chops The Matrix’s heavy scenes require, and the sense of humor he’s displayed in The Dukes of Hazzard, Cybill, and other roles would’ve made the character more rounded and more likable.

That being said, Wopat just wouldn’t look as cool in the role as Fishburne did. Fishburne lent an unmistakable style to the role, with his shaved head and mirrored pince-nez sunglasses. Wopat’s Morpheus would almost certainly have had hair (who would ask him to shave that glorious mane?), but it would’ve had to be something unique to make him more visually distinct from the similarly dark-haired Reeves. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Fishburne could’ve pulled off the aforementioned shades, so Wopat’s Morpheus would’ve had to sport a different look—perhaps mirrored Ray-Ban aviators?

As the two actors are roughly the same height and build, the fight scenes could’ve stayed mostly the same. Wopat is ten years older than Fishburne, but in the world of The Matrix films, this wouldn’t matter—as Morpheus explicitly says in the first flick, “Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles, in this place?” In the Matrix of The Matrix, age is irrelevant; all it takes to be a world-class kung fu master is the knowledge that nothing around you is really real—that there is no spoon.

*Whoa*

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Drama, Musicals, Original Wopatizations

Tom Wopat in: Walk the Line 2 (An Original Wopatization… sort of)

as: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is one of the most influential and enduring figures in American music. His distinctive voice and outlaw image made him popular with fans of all music genres, and he remains one of the best-selling recording artists in country music, year in and year out, over a decade after his death. Walk the Line, a film based on Cash’s early life and relationship with fellow singer June Carter was released in 2005 to much critical and commercial success.

But, as the Man in Black’s recording career spanned more than five decades, Walk the Line really only told part of the story. So much more happened in Cash’s life that a sequel, covering his later years, could easily contain enough drama and excitement to bring moviegoers back for more.

While Joaquin Phoenix did a fantastic job as the young, rebellious Cash in the original Walk the Line (earning an Oscar nomination in the process), a more seasoned actor would be needed to portray the older, wiser, but still plenty rebellious, Johnny Cash in a sequel. And we think no one could be better than Tom Wopat.

cash

Why Wopat?

Unlike Phoenix, who had to learn to play guitar specifically for the role, Tom Wopat already has plenty of six-string experience. He’s also an accomplished singer and songwriter, with multiple albums under his belt. (It should be noted that Phoenix did perform all his own vocals in Walk the Line 1.)

At an even six-foot-tall, Wopat is just a couple of inches shorter than the long and lanky Cash. (Phoenix is only 5’8”.) Height doesn’t really matter than much in a movie, but Cash was famously taller than most of his contemporaries, and a little authenticity can go a long way.

Two of the most interesting (and film-ready) tales from Cash’s first autobiography, Man in Black, were left out of Walk the Line 1, as they occurred after the events depicted in the film. Both would be perfect showcases for Wopat’s skills.

The first saw Cash, jazzed on pills of some kind, bail out of his speeding Cadillac as he rounded a curve on a mountain road. He was hauling a propane tank for his camper in the back of the car, and smelled a leak. Rather than pull over and deal with it as a rational person would, the hopped-up Cash dove from the moving car. It crashed into a tree and exploded; the ensuing fireball singed Cash’s face and sent him to hospital with superficial but scary burns.

The second anecdote involved Cash, again under the influence of illicit drugs, tearing through the desert in an old Army Jeep he had bought. He was ostensibly headed out for a solo camping trip, but got so loopy that he lost control of the truck as he drove down a mountainside and wound up barreling out of control through the dunes. In this instance, too, Cash crashed his vehicle into a tree. (A mesquite, maybe? What kind of tree grows in the desert?) He was in it this time, though he wasn’t injured in any significant way.

Both of these scenes would allow Wopat to use the stunt-driving skills he honed during his Dukes of Hazzard days. They would also present a unique showcase for his acting chops, as they could be played for equal parts comedy and tragedy—visually, they could be very, very funny if done right, while Wopat/Cash’s realization of how his drug use is starting to affect his life could be the stuff of an awards show highlight reel.

Photo credit: mrflip via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Action and/or Adventure, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy, Television

Tom Wopat in: Quantum Leap

as: Dr. Sam Beckett

Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap was one of the most interesting network shows of the early 1990s. In it, Dr. Sam Beckett travels willy-nilly through time, taking the place of ordinary people at crucial times in their lives and hoping to “put right what once went wrong.” On his missions, if you can call them that, Sam appears to everyone else as the person whose place he’s taken; to viewers at home, he looked like Scott Bakula. Over five seasons and 90-something episodes, Sam saved people’s lives, fought mobsters, flew through the Bermuda Triangle, explored Ancient Egyptian tombs, and was, briefly, a chimp.

Bakula did quite well in the role, scoring four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe win. However, we feel there’s an actor who would’ve done even better and scored five Emmy wins, five Golden Globe wins, and, somehow, five Academy Awards for his work, with a Tony and a Grammy thrown in for EGOT purposes. That actor, of course, is Thomas Steven Wopat.

Why Not Wopat?

Quantum Leap debuted at the tail end of the 1988-1989 television season, a good four years after the end of The Dukes of Hazzard. Wopat would’ve been in prime position for a solid return to the boob tube—enough time had passed that he wouldn’t’ve automatically been “Luke Duke” to every viewer who saw him, but it also wasn’t so long ago that he’d’ve been forgotten.

Initially, the show struggled a bit in the ratings. At the time, Scott Bakula was a quintessential “that guy” on television and in movies. With a more established star like Tom Wopat in the lead role, Quantum Leap would almost certainly been a bigger hit from the get-go.

Like the show itself was fond of pointing out, one small change in the past can have a big impact on the future: if Wopat brought better ratings for the first season, the subsequent second season would’ve been given a bigger budget, which would’ve led to overall better-quality episodes, which would almost certainly translated to larger viewership and higher ratings, which starts the whole “bigger budget” cycle all over again.

Instead of running “just” five seasons, a higher-rated Quantum Leap could’ve continued to air new episodes for many more years. Someone put Donald P. Bellisario in the show’s time machine and have him put right the casting choice that once went… not wrong, exactly, because Bakula was pretty great… hmm… how about, “put right the casting choice that could’ve been even better”? That works.

Photo credit: cdrummbks via Source / CC BY

Comedy, Musicals, Television

Tom Wopat in: Flight of the Conchords

as: World Music Jam MC

Flight of the Conchords was one of HBO’s funniest shows, and though it lasted just two seasons (at the insistence of its stars/creators, not due to poor ratings), it left a lasting impression on many viewers thanks to its brilliantly funny songs and dry yet surreal sense of humor. And, it paved way for Bret McKenzie, one half of the titular duo, to win an Academy Award for his songwriting in The Muppets.

conchords

In the tenth episode of the show’s first season, “New Fans,” the Conchords perform at a “World Music Jam.” The host and MC of said jam is Daryl Hall of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Hall & Oates. It’s a small and fairly insignificant role, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t benefit from Wopatization.

Key Changes

It’s never pointed out in “New Fans” that it is, in fact, Hall as the MC. He’s essentially playing himself, but no one ever says, “Hey, it’s Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates,” and, in fact, this viewer had to check the end credits to be sure it was him. Part of the brilliance of the cameo is that it’s just so random.

Having Tom Wopat in the role would arguably be even more random, and therefore funnier. After all, Daryl Hall is primarily known for his musical career, so it makes some sense that he’d be hosting a mini-music festival, low-rent though it may be. Wopat is known mostly as an actor, of course, so his appearance would seem totally out of left field. “Wait, why is Luke Duke there?”

After his brief appearance at the World Music Jam, in which he quickly ushers Flight of the Conchords offstage after just a few notes of their first song, Hall’s MC is never seen again. However, with Wopat’s far more considerable acting chops, we think that the role could’ve expanded. Later in the episode, the band’s new fans (hence the episode title) try to convince Bret and Jermaine to partake in some typically rock and roll bedroom shenanigans, which the guys refuse.

In our Wopatized version of the ‘sode, the Conchords would find out that Tom Wopat took the ladies up on the offer their stead. Some sort of humorous cutaway gag  would be involved there, but we’re not comedy writers, so you’ll have to use your imagination on that one.

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Action and/or Adventure

Tom Wopat in: The Living Daylights & License to Kill

as: James Bond 007

Fifty-plus years and 24 movies (and counting) into the series, the James Bond films are still going strong. Six different actors have played the lead roles over the years, the “bad guys” constantly change to reflect the sociopolitical landscape of the real world, and the overall quality of the films has varied greatly (put Moonraker up against Skyfall, for example), but one thing has remained a constant: James Bond is the man.

007

A half-dozen actors have portrayed James Bond over the years, and speculation abounds every time the role is to be recast. Of the six Bonds so far, two have been very, very good (Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig), but only one has been truly irreplaceable—Sean Connery, the original and still the best. With this in mind, we set out to recast one of the more forgettable Bonds with Tom Wopat. Timothy Dalton’s run seemed like the best fit.

Key Changes

First and foremost, Tom Wopat would’ve been the first American James Bond. It’s impossible to say if the filmmakers would’ve asked Wopat to feign a British accent for the role, or if his natural American voice would’ve been used. Other actors in the role have had non-British accents (Connery’s was Scottish, George Lazenby’s Australian), so perhaps the accent is not a requirement. However, if it had been, we’ve no doubt that Wopat would’ve totally nailed it.

Second, Timothy Dalton’s two-film stint as James Bond marked something of a return to form for the character. Dalton (and the producers, directors, and writers) put some of the grimness and morality struggles from Ian Fleming’s source novels back into the character, who, as Roger Moore’s time in the role went on, became more and more cartoonish and superhero-eque. Gone were the “007 in space” plots, in favor of a more realistic approach.

Wopat’s certainly got the acting chops for a more complex Bond, but the natural comic charisma he showed on The Dukes of Hazzard—not exactly a comedy show, but certainly one with a sense of humor—would have no doubt shown through in places. With a little more levity to the proceedings, one of the big criticisms of Dalton’s Bond days (too dour) would’ve been avoided. This, in turn, likely would’ve made these two middling entries in the franchise into the classic installments they very nearly were. It probably wouldn’t have hurt at the box office, either.

Lasting Impact

As mentioned above, Dalton only hung around for two movies before the Bond hat was passed to Brosnan. Had the above scenario come to pass, we predict that Tom Wopat would not only have become the first American James Bond, but also the last James Bond ever. Not because he would’ve sunk the franchise, but because he would be so well-suited to and loved in the role that no one would ever want to replace him. He’d still be going strong, 10 films in, with each one breaking box office records set by the previous installment.

“But wouldn’t he have aged out of the part by now?” you may foolishly ask. Not at all—there’s no reason fictional characters can’t age along with the actors portraying them, and 007 is no exception. By now, at the still relatively young age of 65, Wopat would be playing Bond as an older-and-wiser elder statesman who can still kick @$$ and save the day with the best of them. (Liam Neeson is still convincingly knocking dudes’ heads in at 64.)

Sure, every new Bond adventure at this point would have to begin with scenes of the “James Bond is the only one who can handle this mission” and “please come out of retirement (again), James” nature. But it would be more than worth sitting through that tired routine every two or three years to see Tom Wopat, one of the most iconic actors of this or any generation, in one of the most iconic film roles of all time.

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