For a franchise built around the idea of “there can be only one,” Highlander sure has had an abundance of immortal main characters running around in search of the mythology’s ultimate “prize.” First it was Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod in the 1986 film (and three subsequent sequels), then it was Adrian Paul as his younger ancestor Duncan in the television series (and fourth and fifth films), then an animated series with Quentin MacLeod, spin-off television series featuring the non-MacLeod Amanda, and so on.
Now we’ve learned that Ryan Reynolds is in serious negotiations to take up the sword and start engaging other immortals in combat to the death (where the winner takes his enemy’s head – and power) in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s upcoming reboot of the series.
We like Ryan Reynolds – but we’re not entirely sold on casting him as an immortal Scottish warrior who prefers swords to guns. Reynolds may make a great Connor MacLeod (or whatever they decide to call him in the reboot), but we can’t shake the feeling there are other, better, choices out there for the role. Here are six of them for your consideration.
Of all six of our choices, Statham is maybe the toughest sell. While the actor is arguably the closest thing we have to a modern day action icon, and it would be pretty fantastic to see him running around engaging in elaborately-choreographed sword fights, the biggest problem is that he might be too much of an action star to pull off this role.
Connor MacLeod is certainly a badass with the katana – but you’d never know it by looking at him. Lambert isn’t a hulking mass of muscle by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, he looks kinda pasty and wan in a lot of Highlander scenes) and that works to his benefit. When Lambert goes up against Clancy Brown’s vicious Kurgan, audiences are thinking “there’s no way he can beat this monster…” That would potentially be lost if Statham were cast in the role – but we’d still interested in seeing what the actor would do with the part. We suspect a Statham MacLeod would have more in common with Adrian Paul’s Duncan (who was fairly ripped and utilized martial arts to complement his sword fighting) than Lambert’s Connor. It could work, but it's not quite ideal.
American born actor Thomas Jane is another guy known for playing tough hombres (he’s been The Punisher, for starters…), but we think he’s slightly more believable as The Highlander than Jason Statham – even though he doesn’t have a great foreign accent.
We’re not sure if the actor has any experience working with swords, but we do know he fought genetically-engineered killer sharks in a battle to the death in Deep Blue Sea – so he’s probably going to be comfortable with lopping off the heads of other immortals.
Perhaps the best thing about casting Jane in the role of Connor (or maybe the worst, depending on your perspective) is that if you squint hard enough, he bears a bit of a resemblance to Christopher Lambert. They’re not like twins or anything, but they do sort of look alike.
We could easily see Jane in this part – he’s got that masculine streak a character like MacLeod needs to have, but he’s not so imposing that the audience would automatically assume he’d destroy the lead villain in the film. He’s not our top choice for the role, but we’d be okay if he were cast in Fresnadillo’s version.
While not as well-known as the other names on our list, Misha Collins is our dark horse in the race to find the perfect Connor MacLeod.
Best known for his role as the angel Castiel on the CW series Supernatural, Collins brings a lot of positives to the table – he’s not a huge guy, but he can exude that powerful vibe that Connor needs to have, he’s already played a character who is essentially immortal, women seem to find him attractive, and he looks great in one of those long brown trench coats immortals love to wear so they can hide their swords.
Collins doesn't appear to have any previous sword training – but that’s something that could be easily remedied by a few months with a good instructor and choreographer. Add in that Collins isn’t exactly a household name (which makes it far easier to accept him in the role in the same way that we accepted Lambert), and we can’t shake the feeling that he would make a great Connor MacLeod.
How great would it be to have a real Scottish actor play The Highlander for a change? That’s exactly what you’d get if you cast Ewan McGregor in the part. No more hokey accents, no more pretending that someone who’s never been anywhere near Scotland was born there 500 years ago – a legitimate Scotsman playing the role. Sounds perfect.
Plus, we already know McGregor is comfortable with a sword from his time spent wielding lightsabers as Obi Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. If that doesn’t sell you on the idea, maybe the fact that he’s arguably the best pure actor on the list will. Not to disparage the work of Lambert or anyone else in the series, but getting someone like Ewan McGregor to tackle the part would have given the production a real boost on a number of levels.
McGregor is another actor who fits the part physically as well – and unlike Collins, he would bring a certain ruggedness to the role if hecast in it. Given a choice between Reynolds or McGregor, we choose McGregor 100 times out of 100.
As the oldest actor on the list, Clive Owen could potentially bring something to the role of Connor MacLeod that our other options couldn’t – the look of experience one develops when they’ve lived for half a millennium. Owen isn’t old (he’s 47), but he certainly has a wizened visage that would translate quite nicely to playing an immortal.
Like McGregor, Owen has some bonafide acting chops and he’s no stranger to roles requiring physical performances (he put in a lot of work in Alfono Cuaron’s Children of Men and even more in Shoot ‘Em Up) and having played Arthur in 2004’s King Arthur, we know he’s comfortable swinging a sword.
As another Englishman, Owen might not be quite as perfect as McGregor or our next pick, but he’s got a great British accent and could certainly pass in the role. After all – this the same series that had Sean Connery playing an Egyptian with a Spanish name…
And finally, we arrive at our top choice – the guy who would be Connor MacLeod if we lived in a perfect world – Gerard Butler.
Like McGregor, Butler is another Scottish actor – and like McGregor, he’s got experience playing roles that require heavy swordplay (he was, after all, King Leonidas in 300). The actor’s work in that film – where he glowered and growled his way through an overwhelming Persian army – has convinced us that he’s the perfect leading man for Fresnadillo’s reboot.
In Butler, we see the best of all worlds – He’s got Statham’s physicality while not being overwhelmingly huge. He’s Scottish like McGregor, meaning there’s no need for him to pretend he’s from the country. He’s not quite as old as Owen (Butler is 42), but he’s ruggedly handsome and has proven he can do wise and grizzled.
Most importantly of all, Butler could really use this sort of part. The actor seemed poised to become a superstar in the wake of 300, but has been in a strange assortment of projects since. From romantic dramas like P.S. I Love You, to forgettable titles like Gamer to more quirky things like RocknRolla, Butler has never quite managed to capitalize on his earlier success. Maybe that’s by design (we’re all for actors taking roles they find interesting), but it sure would be great to see him in another iconic role – which is exactly what could happen if he were selected for the Highlander reboot.
And there you have it – six actors we think would be excellent as Connor MacLeod for a new generation. We’ll still be amongst the first in line to see Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s reboot when it finally debuts and we hope Ryan Reynolds surprises us with a fantastic performance if he does sign on, but if it doesn’t work out we can all look back at this list and think about what might have been. Also, a hearty thank you to my Twitter and Facebook friends – who played a very important part in helping come up with these choices.
Now we’ve done our part – let us know who you’d cast as Connor MacLeod in a Highlander reboot. We’re guessing we’ll see some Colin Farrell votes…