Following in the lines of other contemporary westerns like Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and the El Mariachi movies, the comic series Scalped eschews the stereotypical western storyline and instead carved a new line right up the gut of Native American portrayals in western fiction. Although still possessing the hallmarks of the western genre with a rebellious lead character, American desert landscapes and gun battles, Scalped focused on the modern-day lives of a tribe of American Indians living on a reservation and dealing with their faltering society, rampant crime and their place in American cultural quilt of life.
Earlier this year creators Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra brought the series to a close at its 60th issue, telling a twisting sidewinder of a story about Daishell Bad Horse and the people of the Prairie Rose reservation. And now with it done, it’s an excellent, albeit overlooked, goldmine for a potential live-action adaptation.
Like the Biblical story of the prodigal son gone bad, Scalped follows an undercover FBI agent named Dashiell Bad Horse who returns to his hometown to weed out the corruption that’s gripped it for decades. His family has a long history with the movers and shakers of Prairie Rose, especially the omnipresent authority figure Lincoln Red Crow who acts as sheriff, president and owner of the local casino. It’s one half Carlito’s Way and one-half a classic Peckinpah story, and an ideal source for a gripping television series.
And in television there have been a spate of westerns cropping up, from the more classic Hell On Wheels to more contemporary ones like Justified and Longmire. But doing a show with a primarily Native American cast could be troublesome on paper, but I (and I hope readers) learn through doing this at the startling array of actors available that could make Scalped a television reality.
Telling a story like Scalped and doing it both authentically, brutally and engagingly, is a tough task. To do that, I’d pair feature film director Jim Jarmusch with one of the main writers and executive producers of Sons of Anarchy, Dave Erickson. Erickson is a key part of running SoA second only to Kurt Sutter, and just as Sutter graduated from The Shield into doing his own show with SoA, so could Erickson. As for my choice of Jarmusch, I’d point directly to the excellent film he did with Johnny Depp, Dead Man, and his later film Ghost Dog. Both show a brutality, but also an adherence to facts not only in set pieces but in approach. I’d love to see Jarmusch pair with Erickson to create a collaboration akin to Frank Darabont and Gale Ann Hurd on The Walking Dead or the way Walter Hill set the tone in Deadwood directing the first episode for David Milch.
Dashiell Bad Horse – Michael Spears: Dashiell is a unique kind of character, a firebrand and someone who brings about change — not unlike fellow Vertigo stalwart Jesse Custer. To play this role in a serialized television drama, I’d turn to Sioux actor Michael Spears. Spears might be best known for his role as Otter in 1990′s Dances With Wolves, but since then he’s grown to be more than just a child actor but a great character actor as seen in Into The West and as a tribal police officer in the indie feature Imprint. Spears is one of those actors waiting for that breakout role, and I think playing Dashiell could be the best thing for him and for Scalped.
Lincoln Red Crow – Graham Greene: Arguably one of the most popular Native American actors in modern cinema, it helps that Graham Greene is also a great actor. Like Spears he was an alum of Dances With Wolves (and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), but it’s in his larger body of work that I found reason to cast him here. His role as an inmate in The Green Mile, as Ishi in The Last of His Tribe in the two Coyote Waits movies really shows a broader depth than just being the stereotypical wise Native American. Greene has a significant onscreen presence that I’d to see twisted and turned as Red Crow, and his ties to the American movie-goers would make this a must-watch portrayal.
Gina Bad Horse – Irene Bedard: Dashiell’s mom Gina plays a key part in Dashiell’s return to the reservation, but Gina has a significant role and arc of her own in the series. Irene Bedard would be a great choice for the modern-day scenes, referencing her work in Into The West and also voicing the lead character in Disney’s Pocahontas movie.
Agent Nitz – Robert Knepper: Ever since I first noticed Robert Knepper in Prison Break, I’ve been fascinated by his work. Cut from a similar cloth as Walton Coggins, Knepper plays it with a bit more ire and brimstone. He might not fit Nitz’ character on paper in terms of age, but I think it’d be worth expanding horizons to get someone like him on this.
Officer Falls Down – Adam Beach: The only good guy in a town gone bad. Falls Down was one of my favorites in Scalped, and seeing Adam Beach step into that would be some inspired casting. I first noticed Beach in Flags of our Fathers, and enjoyed earlier cop role in Law & Order: SVU.
Carol Ellroy – Q’orianka Kilcher: This was the hardest role for me to cast, with me finding several choices that were never quite right. That is until I remember Q’orianka Kilcher’s performance in Terrence Malick’s The New World. She’s had small parts on TV shows like The Killing and Sons of Anarchy since then, but like Michael Spears seems to be waiting for the next big leap to a higher pedigree of gig. Kilcher would have to play a bit more down-and-dirty than she’s used to in previous roles, but I’d love to see her sink into that and make it work.
Diesel – Kevin Durand: Flipping through Scalped in preperation for this edition of Comic Book Casting, I was riveted by the way R. M. Guéra drew Gina’s boyfriend Diesel. Not quite hero and not quite villain, I’d love to see Kevin Durand step out of his type-casting as a straight up bad guy and play this more nuanced role.