Dream Casting: Popeye

Contributed by
Nov 22, 2017

Dream Casting is an imaginative look at the casting process of potential Hollywood projects based on comics and other media. This isn't just about what is being made; this is about what should be made, and who we think should be the stars.

The holidays have got me thinking about family movies, and how much fun it can be (when done well) to see a live-action adaptation of an animated classic. That’s why I’ve decided to cast a big-budget movie version of Popeye the Sailor. I mean no disrespect to Robin Williams, Robert Altman, and their 1980 Popeye, which I’m actually a bigger fan of than most people. But it’s also fun to imagine something more modern, with CGI special effects and fight scenes that parody the style of superhero films.

This is the sort of movie that Phil Lord and Chris Miller would be great at.

Bill Hader as Popeye

Bill Hader (Documentary Now!) is one of those comedic performers who can take any weird thing you hand him and make it gold. He's also great at voices and impressions. I don’t know if he has a Popeye voice already, but if not I know he'll work hard to develop one. Cut his hair and add some prosthetics to build up his chin and forearms, and he'll be a perfect sailor man.

Joy Bryant as Olive Oyl

Joy Bryant (Good Girls Revolt) is a versatile performer with a background in dance, which gives her a leg up on recreating the weird rubbery physicality of one of animation history's weirdest female leads. She's also a great actress who can bring more to Olive than the fickle pining we see in the cartoons.

Kristian Nairn as Bluto

Kristian Nairn (Game of Thrones) has yet to really prove himself when it comes to dialogue, but Bluto doesn't necessary need to be eloquent. The main thing Bluto requires of an actor is that they're absolutely enormous, and Nairn has that in spades.

Daniel Franzese as J. Wellington Wimpy

Daniel Franzese (Conviction) is also a large man, but he carries himself with a delicate grace that belies his size, which is exactly what Wimpy needs. You can just imagine him holding a hamburger in one hand, pinky up, as he politely explains that he'll pay you for it on Tuesday.

Kevin Hart as Castor Oyl

Castor Oyl, Olive's brother, is a small man who talks big. He's always on the lookout for an adventure or, even better, a moneymaking scheme. Kevin Hart (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) is perfect for the part.

Bill Murray as Poopdeck Pappy

In a better world, this would be Robin Williams' part. But in his absence, Bill Murray can handle the role of Popeye's even crustier absentee dad.

Whoopi Goldberg as Nana Oyl

Olive and Castor’s mother probably won't have a very big part, but Whoopi Goldberg, legend that she is, will be a memorable presence in every scene.

Cedric the Entertainer as Papa Oyl

The patriarch of the Oyl family sees every interaction as a sleight against him—his catchphrase is "You owe me an apology." Cedric the Entertainer (Barbershop: The Next Cut) will bring his own spin to such a broad character.

Fred Armisen as George W. Geezil

George W. Geezil is a rarely remembered character, but he's basically the town weirdo and Wimpy's archenemy. Fred Armisen loves to transform himself into weird characters, as seen on Documentary Now! and Portlandia, so he'll do stellar work behind Geezil's long beard.

Lily Tomlin as the Sea Hag

The literal witch known as the Sea Hag is a more serious menace for Popeye than Bluto could ever be, and would make a great primary villain for the movie. Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie) will bring both humor and menace to the role.