Classics, Comedy, Television

Tom Wopat in: Cheers

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?

Wopat the World is blogged in front of a live studio audience.

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, more accurately, without Shelley Long in the cast.)

Photo credit: Mario Sixtus via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Classics, Comedy

Tom Wopat in: The Big Lebowski

as: “The Dude”

This one’s a tough sell, no doubt about it. Jeff Bridges is brilliant in The Big Lebowski because he more or less is The Dude in real life. (If you’ve seen him on The Tonight Show or any other late night talk show, you know exactly what I mean). But, because he pretty much is The Dude anyway, is Bridges’ performance actually that great?

Yeah. It is.

But! What if, instead of casting an actor who more or less played himself, the Coen brothers instead chose an actor who had to stretch a little more? We are, of course, referring to Tom Wopat.

lebowski

Key Changes

At one point in the film, the character of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is described as being “maybe […] the laziest man on the planet.” And, indeed, The Dude sets a new standard for laid-back heroes. It’s hard to imagine that any actor other than Jeff Bridges could’ve brought that championship-caliber laziness to the role, no matter how hard said actor tried. (Trying hard to be lazy is your oxymoron of the week, folks.) So, with Tom Wopat in the role, we imagine His Dudeness as at least a bit more energetic.

As is, the story of The Big Lebowski kind of just unfolds around him, and none of his actions necessarily have any effect on the eventual resolution of the plot. In The Big Wopatowski, the slightly-invigorated Dude would be a bit more pro-active. Instead of just following along on Walter’s (John Goodman) crazy scheme to confront Larry about the stolen million dollars, El Duderino himself hatches the plan. The over-the-top conclusion of the scene, in which Walter finds a stranger in the Alps, would remain the same.

Similarly, near the end of the film, when The Dude, Walter, and Donny (Steve Buscemi) are ambushed and (rather pathetically) assaulted by the bizarre trio of Nihilists, Wopat’s The Dude would not stand idly by while Walter does all the fighting. Instead, some of Wopat’s stunt training from The Dukes of Hazzard would come into play, and Duder would trounce all three villains on his own.

This last point would add an extra layer of depth to the character, in a very Zen, Kane from Kung Fu kind of way. He’s lazy, and a self-described pacifist, but when the chips are down, he can completely kick @$$. Ultimately, we discover, that’s why he’s such a laid-back guy—he could knock the snot out of almost anyone, but instead, The Dude abides.

Photo credit: Profound Whatever via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Classics, Drama

Tom Wopat in: The Godfather

as: Michael Corleone

Though it’s hard to imagine anyone but Al Pacino in the role for which he won his first Academy Award nomination, the screen legend was not the film’s producers’ first choice for the part of Michael Corleone. Tom Wopat is not even remotely Italian, but neither are Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, or Ryan O’Neal, all of whom were in the running for the part at one time or another. In fact, the role originally went to James Caan, who ultimately would play Michael’s older brother Sonny in The Godfather.

Basically, what I’m saying here is, Tom Wopat could’ve (and would’ve) been fantastic as Michael Corleone.

"I'll  make him an offer... you know the rest."

“I’ll make him an offer… you know the rest.”

Notes

As The Godfather is essentially a perfect movie, I wouldn’t deign to suggest any major changes in the Michael role. There are, however, a few issues that would’ve needed to be addressed.

Pacino was 31 years old at the time The Godfather was shot; Wopat would’ve been only 20. However, I don’t see this as being a huge problem. In the movie, Michael Corleone is 25, so 20 wouldn’t have been too far off.

And, if the filmmakers worried that Wopat appeared to young, they could have used makeup to make him appear slightly older. They did a bang up job on Marlon Brando in his Oscar winning role as Vito Corleone—Brando was 41 at the time, but was made to look as though he was in his late 50s/early 60s.

Another potential problem is a matter of body type. In the book on which the movie is based, it is stated that Sonny Corleone is a tall, muscly fellow, while younger brother Michael is shorter and slighter. This wasn’t an issue in the actual film, as Caan, at five-foot-nine, really is a few inches taller than Pacino; Caan was also considerably broader than his wiry-framed co-star.

Wopat, however, stands an even six feet and has a more athletic build than Pacino. But, as countless films have shown, height differences can be easily compensated for with very, very basic filmmaking tricks. And, beside a young James Caan, young Tom Wopat would still have been much thinner—simple costuming choices could’ve further disguised this.

Finally, you may be thinking, “Al Pacino is one of the greatest actors of his generation. Could Tom Wopat really have held his own in a film like The Godfather?”

Well, you gosh darn Doubting Thomas, The Godfather was just Pacino’s third film role, and the first in which he had a major part. He was a relative unknown, as Wopat was at the time. Few people outside of Francis Ford Coppola suspected that Pacino was capable of delivering the exceptional performance that he did. Who’s to say that Tom Wopat couldn’t have knocked it out of the park, as well? The man’s got chops aplenty.

Photo credit: alvarezperea via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Classics, Kids and/or Family, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy

Tom Wopat in: Labyrinth

as: Jareth the Goblin King

I’m sure you’re thinking this one is kind of a stretch, but hear me out…

While their careers couldn’t be more different, both Tom Wopat and the late, great David Bowie were pretty close to the top of the celebrity food chain in 1986 when Labyrinth was released. David Bowie spent most of the year David Bowie-ing, as is his wont. The Dukes of Hazzard had just ended its run on television after seven seasons, so Wopat would’ve been perfectly positioned to make a major move into film work.

labyrinth

Key Changes

For our “Tom Wopat as Jareth the Goblin King” re-imagining of Labyrinth, there are two key issues which must be addressed.

First, the music. Labyrinth is a brilliant, visually stunning movie, but the songs in it are all pretty terrible. Don’t get me wrong, Bowie gave us some genuine masterpieces, but “Magic Dance” is not one of them. (Same goes for the other four tracks the Thin White Duke wrote and recorded for the film). Wopat, being a singer as well, could’ve put a whole different spin on it. He likely would’ve created more organic, folk-inspired songs, which for my money would fit the film better. Why would a mythical creature—like Jareth—in a vaguely Medieval setting—like the labyrinth—sing weird, dancey ‘80s pop? An acoustic guitar (or a lute or whatever) seems more natural to Labyrinth’s world than a synthesizer.

Second, costuming and makeup. Bowie didn’t actually wear any costumes in the movie—he just showed up in his street clothes and they started shooting. I don’t think Wopat would’ve looked quite the same in all that spandex and bright colored makeup; the Jareth costumes would have to be a bit more… earthy, let’s say. Animal pelts/furs and rough-cut leather would be a little more in Jareth Wopat’s wheelhouse, methinks. This direction seems like it would work better with the change in music, as well. Makeup could still be used to give the character a fantastical look, but instead of reds and purples and pinks, maybe dark greens and blues—again, just a bit more organic looking.

Photo credit: 7th Street Theatre via Foter.com / CC BY

Classics, Comedy, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy

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.)

back to the future

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 advances 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.

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 1940s Ford convertible, inexplicably painted bright orange and with “01” stenciled on the side. (No Confederate flag on the convertible top, though—Biff may be a jerk, but he’s no bigot.)

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 via Foter.com / CC BY