Comic Book Casting: The SLEEPER Movie

In the unparallelled success of Marvel’s movie franchise, fans and industry pundits are quick to cast Marvel’s rivals DC as behind in this imaginary war between two companies, but in reality DC has just as many — if not more — potential hits in their library; it’s just a matter of doing it, and doing it right. And beyond the four-color heroics of Batman and Superman, DC has a lush crop of non-superhero work from Vertigo as well as genre-bending work as published in Wildstorm. And Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper is one of those stories that could be box office gold. And believe me, Hollywood knows it.

Way back in 2008, Brubaker stated openly in an interview with CBR that there have been multiple attempts to bring Sleeper to the big screen. That very same year, Sam Raimi’s Stars Roads Entertainment optioned Sleeper for a feature film, with none other than Tom Cruise circling the movie in an unspecified capacity. Not much has been said since then, but I’d imagine this would be a great concept for DC to hand-off to an outside company or even produce in-house at Warner Bros. and make a great piece of work that wouldn’t need to be tied into (and tied down) to the main threads of any DCU movie continuity.

The Concept:

What happens when an inside man gets in too deep? The Hollywood Reporter has compared Sleeper to The Departed, and I’d add my own with Carlito’s Way. But Sleeper takes all that and imbues it with a more noirish atmosphere and colors it with shadows of super-heroism — or at least super humans — in a great 25 issue comic series that would make a spectacular movie trilogy.

For a first movie, I’d pull the story from the inaugural six-issue arc “Out In The Cold,” showing Holden Carver being inserted into the genetically engineered super-criminal Tao’s criminal operations by I.O. director John Lynch. We could show Carver getting to know the logistics of running a superhuman crime syndicate, and be well on his way to rising up the ranks when his handler, Lynch, is attacked and left in a coma. The big twist is that Carver discovers Lynch is the only one who knows Carver is a good guy, therefore leaving his only lifeline back to his old life comatose on a hospital bed. Unsure of what to do, Carver slips up and Tao finds out he’s up to something and gives him a choice between good and evil.

It does exist in the Wildstorm continuity, but I’d play that down and just show these as characters living in their own world — not unlike the Red movie. If it goes well, Lynch could lead you to more movies, and you could even through in a discreet Grifter/Cole Cash cameo, but by and large this movie should be out in the cold just like Carver.

Brubaker and Phillips’ 25-issue arc gives enough material for three (or possibly four) movie series, but the hard part is keeping the quality up and not letting this turn into a direct-to-DVD b-movie. It needs a great cast, but more importantly it needs a great director.

The Director:

This movie needs the vision of someone who’s lived a little, and someone who knows both writing and directing. For this, I’d enlist the veteran filmmaker Walter Hill. This man’s done everything from The Warriors and 48 Hours to directing the pilot episode of Deadwood. After a couple years out of the spotlight, he’s making his comeback doing a upcoming cop drama with Sylvester Stallone, and seeing Walter Hill on a project like Sleeper could be a bold choice that could reap a multitude of benefits.

The Cast:

Holden Carver / The Conductor – Joel Edgerton: Not everyone can play a hard-nosed bull of a man, but after seeing Edgerton in The Warrior I think he’s got what it takes — mentally and physically — to play a nuanced and layered character like Carver. After his breakout performance in The Warrior, he’s got two more films — Zero Dark Thirty and The Great Gatsby — that should have his name being bandied about alot and would be a great casting for Sleeper’s leading man.

Tao – Tom Cruise: Some people might say Tom Cruise should play the heroic lead, but I think what would be more interesting for fans, movie-makers and Cruise himself would be to take on the bad guy in Tao. Cruise has only played a bad guy a handful of times, but I’d love to see him tackle a character who in any other story could have been a hero but for reasons of his own decided to go down the dark path.

Miss Misery – Charlize Theron: There’s a host of great actresses who would be vying heavily for a role like this, but Theron seems head-and-shoulders above any others for this physically and mentally demanding role.

John Lynch – Ian McKellen: People might say McKellen’s too recognizable in comic book movies for his role as Magneto, but I’d argue the actor is more than capable of changing things up and delivering a remarkably different performance here. Putting him in here would be an inspired choice, and I’m confident McKellen could deliver in spades.

Genocide Jones – Kevin Durand: Try as I might, there’s no denying that Kevin Durand is made to play Genocide Jones. Durand has the physicality but also the comedic chops to be a fine counter-point to Holden Carver without just being some dumb muscle.


  1. Cruise as a bad guy is my favorite. I think he really cuts loose when he’s given the opportunity to play that kind of role just because it’s so rare for him

  2. Excellent picks. The Cruise choice is inspired. But isn’t McKellan getting a little long in the tooth to pass for a government operative? Even for just running agents, you probably don’t see many guys in their 70s in that role.

  3. Anyone who has seen Collateral knows just how amazing Cruise can be as bad guy. I hope he takes on a role as a baddie sometime soon.

  4. I don’t know if there’s still a faux pas on the internet about reviving old posts but I was reading old Comic Book Castings and I don’t have to explain myself to you.
    Does anyone else think it’s a damn revelation to cast Tom Cruise as Tao. I got chills imagining him deliver his classic line “I exist to serve.”

    • Ok double posting, breaking all tha rules. I just realized every poster above praised the Cruise decision. Also he’s some kind of anti-hero in an upcoming movie. He’s a supporting character to his car or something?