Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy, Television

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 (almost) 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?

Futuramafitti

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 Wave’s “Walking On Sunshine.”

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 $8 (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 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 states, “and into the fire.”

End credits.

Photo credit: Mayu ;P via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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

Tom Wopat in: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

as: Strider/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.

This could've been a Tom Wopat action figure, dammit!

This could’ve been a Tom Wopat action figure, dammit!

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.