Comic Book Casting: The TRANSMETROPOLITAN Movie

Superman might be a good super-hero, but when it comes to journalism Clark Kent can’t hold a candle to Spider Jerusalem. Created by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson in 1997 for the long-running series Transmetropolitan, Jerusalem is a caustic reporter of life in a sprawling metropolis sometime in the 23rd Century. He’s Edward R. Murrow in a Phillip K. Dick world.

Numerous studios have been in talks with Ellis and Robertson to create a film adaptation of Transmetropolitan, with even former Star Trek captain Patrick Stewart in talks at one point to star and produce. But for a project set two hundred years in our future, it’s a story literally ahead of its time… but with today’s modern special effects, it could work today.

The Concept:
Reporting from the front lines of a futuristic culture where race, society and culture are gears grinding and tearing into each other, Spider Jerusalem’s story is a political story draped into extraordinary set pieces. Although there are laser guns – well, bowel disrupters – this isn’t your typical sci-fi epic. That’s the hardest part of the adaptation – it’s a period piece of a journalist fighting the system; the period happens to be the 23rd Century.

To that end, the structure for a movie needs to borrow on other movies that act as ensemble pieces with an effective – and in this case, acerbic – lead. Imagine All The King’s Men or JFK in terms of balancing the cast and the mechanics of the story. Although if you recommend Aaron Sorkin to write the script as he’s become the writer-du-jour for this kind of thing as of late, I’d kick-punch you. I love Sorkin, but this isn’t his thing.

The Director:

Just as you can’t hire just any kind of screenwriter, the same goes for a director. While some might choose to rely on a director with experience in a high-tech, special-effects laden film, it’s important to keep your eye on the fact that it’s a story of a journalist fighting corruption – the futuristic part comes in later. To accurately translate this to the big screen, I’d tap British director (and satirist) Chris Morris.

While he might be an unknown outside his native England, Morris is well known in his homeland for his political antics as well as his burgeoning film career. The 2011 film Four Lions was his features debut, but he comes from years of television work including a precursor to The Daily Show called The Day Today. To make up for his lack of high-budget science fiction film experience, I’d make sure an able-bodied crew of producers were on tap who were experienced help Morris mitigate the pitfalls of special effects-laden films.

The Cast:

Spider Jerusalem – Sam Rockwell: As I said earlier, ST:TNG captain Patrick Strewart’s name has been floating around this, and creators Ellis and Robertson brought up the name of Tim Roth as an admirable Spider Jerusalem but I have my own choice – Sam Rockwell. He’s carried smaller films like Moon and Choke on his own but is best known for his supporting roles in films like Iron Man 2 and Matchstick Men. Rockwell has the dramatic chops as well as the flair for personality that could make his portrayal of Jerusalem memorable and undiluted.

Channon Yarrow – Maggie Grace: She’s not the innocent girl from Lost anymore, and that’s a good thing. The American actress has gone on to become a bigger star in a series of European films such as Taken and Malice In Wonderland. I think she could deliver a faceted performance as Channon and not back down from Rockwell-as-Jerusalem in a film.

Yelena Rossini – ????????: Yelena is a hard role to play. She’s arguably the most fleshed out character in the series (even moreso that Spider), and getting the right actress is hard — and getting the wrong one would sink it. Unless you have a time machine and could kidnap a young Marisa Tomei, I’m at a loss for who to play Yelena. I’m throwing this out to the iFanboy readers – who do you think could play Yelena in a Transmetropolitan movie?

The Beast – Tommy Lee Jones: Jones has quietly become a veteran part of several comic-to-film translations, but as the Beast he could deliver a more nuanced approach that his typical gruff, military-type persona. We already know Jones looks good in a suit, so just imagine him as a corrupt politician channeling Richard Nixon.

The Smiler – Michael Sheen: Arguably one of the top villains in all of comics, the Smiler became more than just a man but a message in Transmetropolitan’s expansive run. Finding a dramatic actor who can turn up that comedic and creepy side is hard to come by, but I think Michael Sheen would do an admirable job. If you combine his serious performance in Frost/Nixon with the scene-stealing work he did in Tron and you’re halfway there.


  1. I’ve never seen Maggie Grace act well in anything she’s been in. And I’d go with Mia Kershner for Yelena.

    • I second that suggestion!

    • i was just about to post that i disagree with casting maggie grace on account of her being a horrible actress. it would appear i am not alone here.

      i would like to see helena bonham carter as yelena. she might be too old, though, so a second choice would be mila kunis on account of the fact that i will watch most anything she’s been in. including that shitty max payne movie.

  2. Rooney Mara would nail Yelena

  3. I’ve always thought you could do some great stunt casting, and put disgraced candidate, Jon Edwards in as the Smiler.

  4. Can’t wait to continue reading transmet. I was 5 trades in when school started, as of 4 p.m. today school is out. In my dreams Terry Gilliam directs this.

  5. Chris Morris directing a Transmetropolitan film? Oh me oh my. That would be something else. Amazing shout there, Chris.

  6. I also thought Kevin Spacey would make a great Spider Jerusalem.

    And for Yelena Rossini, come on.. Pauley Perrette from NCIS would rock that role.

    Thora Birch as Channon Yarrow would be a nice counterpoint to the manic Spacey as Spider.

  7. No Woody Harrelson as Spider? Though I certainly wouldn’t Rockwell getting the part.

  8. I’d love to see someone like Christian Bale go full out method actor crazy on Spider. Emerge from a hole in the woods months after reading for the part with tattoos and Alan Moore style hair.
    And now that I think about, I like Charlize Theron for Channon, she’s tough and very lovely.
    Yelena… Man I got nothing for ya on that one. Part of me would love to see Zooey Deschanel slowly corrupted by Spider and emerge smoking and swearing by the film’s end.

  9. Just finished the last tpb of this last night. Completely blown away by the ending. Yet another series that I never would have given a chance if it wasn;t for iFanboy.

  10. I’d go with Alsion Scagliotti as Yelena and John Goodman as The Beast.

  11. Call me crazy, but Keeley Hawes would kill as Yelena.

    • She’s a great actress (I’m reminded that MI-5 is patiently awaiting a rewatch in my netflix instant queue), but I think she might be a bit old for the part. It’s been too long since I read Transmet, but Yelena is basically fresh from journalism school, right? Sure, they could write around it easily enough (30 is already the new 20, maybe journalism is a second career?)

    • Yeah, that occurred to me moments after I posted this. The age itself isn’t a problem, but if Maggie Grace is Channon and she’s younger than Yelena it kind of messes up their dynamic.

      Maybe Ellen Wong as Yelena?

    • Ellen Wong would be interesting, I only know her from Scott Pilgrim. I could almost see Yelena played by someone like Dakota Fanning (who’s now in her late teens I believe) — she had that wise-beyond-her-years thing down cold as a little kid, maybe that vibe has transformed into a “legitimately jaded post-college twenty-something” thing that would probably work well for Spider’s filthy assistant.

  12. Sam Rockwell yes!! I always thought Tim Roth wouldn’t fit. And Michael Sheen as the Smiler is inspired too.

  13. I’d pay to see a movie where Tommy Lee Jones shits himself.

  14. With the caveat that I haven’t read the series yet (it’s on the list after Starman). Looking at that picture of the smiler, it almost looks like it was based off of a younger Steve Buscemi, and so who better to play a creepy comedic role, with Dramatic chops.

  15. Yelena? I vote Kat Dennings!

  16. Olivia Wilde as Channon

    Id like to see Emma Stone take on Yelena, though I’m not sure it’d work… Darker role than she usually takes on, but i think it’d be interesting

    I’d love to see Rose McGowan as Vita

    As for Christian Bale, I think he’d make a good smiler. He gives good psychotic

    Ive never been able to pick an actor for the spider role though…

  17. This is my cast list. At least look at it and then look at the characters and then take it or leave it.

    Noomi Rapace or Helena Bonham Carter- Yelena
    Tim Roth – Spider
    Jennifer Lawrence – Channon
    Tommy Lee Jones or John Goodman – The Beast
    Michael Sheen – The Smiler