Netflix’s Tiger King is generating a ton of buzz lately, with viewers absolutely gobsmacked by the strange, wild, disturbing docuseries. The series takes us into the surprisingly lucrative (and altogether questionable) world of big cat collectors, focusing primarily on the eccentric Joe Exotic, a private zoo owner who was convicted of ordering a contract killing on an animal rights activist. But Joe is just our gateway into a whole world of unconventional, and in some cases downright loathsome, characters.
There’s already a Tiger King TV show in the works, featuring Kate McKinnon. But let’s go beyond that. Let’s assume that there’s going to be a Tiger King movie as well. Who would star? Who could possibly play this motley crew of weirdos? And who could direct it? I’ve taken the liberty of fan-casting the flick below.
Naturally, this post contains spoilers for the entire series.
First, a disclaimer: I’ve seen people performing this same exercise online, but more often than not, they seem to be “casting” actors who look the most like the subjects. But if you’ve ever seen a biopic, you know that’s not how Hollywood works. More often than not, the people in biopics only vaguely resemble who they’re playing. In this case, I tried to strike a balance between actors who resemble their subjects, but also can exude their subjects’ distinct energy.
Joe Exotic – Michael Keaton
More than a few people have suggested Matthew McConaughey for the lead role of Joe Exotic – a gay, gun-toting big cat aficionado, former presidential and gubernatorial candidate, and private zoo owner who was convicted of 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder-for-hire. And sure, that’s a great suggestion, and McCounaghey could probably play this character in his sleep. But it felt too easy to me. Instead, I’m going with Michael Keaton. Keaton is a master at playing manic weirdos, and he has a similar facial-structure as Joe. Keaton has entered the prestige part of his late career, sticking with serious dramas. But I’d love for him to go nuts again in a role like this. He’d probably win an Oscar.
Carole Baskin – Laura Dern
Carole Baskin was the person Joe was convicted of ordering a hit on. She runs Big Cat Rescue, and is Joe’s mortal enemy, viewing him as an abusive menace. Oh, and she might have murdered her husband (at least according to several people interviewed in the docuseries). Maybe. This is the part Kate McKinnon is playing in the TV adaptation, but were I casting the part, I’d go with Laura Dern. Dern doesn’t look like Baskin, but she can definitely nail Baskin’s loopy, aloof hippie-turned-savior who may or may not be unhinged attitude.
Jeff Lowe – Walton Goggins
Jeff Lowe exudes a kind of charming menace. You can tell he’s bad news, but he also seems like he’d be very good at sweet-talking you. You can understand why he was successful, but you can also understand why people should be warry of him. He’s another big cat purveyor who came into Joe’s life to help him with finances. But things didn’t turn out that way, and eventually, Jeff ended up owning Joe’s zoo while Joe went into exile. Lowe also played a big part in getting Joe eventually arrested. Get Walton Goggins in there, and have him turn on the charm tinged with potential danger.
Dr. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle – Danny McBride
Look, you can’t dramatize this story without Danny McBride. Hell, the entire thing feels like something McBride and frequent collaborate Jody Hill cooked-up while very, very stoned. Doc Antle is another private zoo owner like Joe, but he’s the opposite of Joe. While Joe is crass and vulgar, Antle likes to convey that he’s far more sophisticated, more refined. Oh, and he has an entire harem of women who work for him. Throw Danny McBride in a safari vest, and you’re ready to go.
Allen Glover – Ben Mendelsohn
Allen Glover was Joe’s handyman and was also the guy Joe supposedly hired to kill Carole Baskin. Allen claims he ultimately “chickened out” of the hit, and went out and partied instead. He very much reminded me of a more unpolished version of Ben Mendelsohn‘s ne’er-do-well character from the mostly forgotten Netflix series Bloodline. And while this part is probably too small for Mendelsohn, there are no real rules here, so he has the part. Besides, Mendelsohn is one of the best actors working today, so I’m sure he can knock this out of the park.
John Finlay – Shia LaBeouf
In addition to owning a zoo, Joe Exotic was also a polygamist. He married two men at the same time – and then, after one of his husbands died (more on that later), he married yet another husband (more on that later, too). The husband who gets the most attention in Tiger King is John Finlay, a tattooed guy who is missing most of his teeth (Finlay has since gotten dentures). This part is essentially a combination of Shia LaBeouf‘s roles in American Honey and Honey Boy, only seemingly nicer, and he would be the perfect actor to inhabit Finlay.
Dillon Passage – Timothée Chalamet
Joe’s final husband – at least in terms fo the doc – is Dillon Passage. We don’t learn a whole lot about him other than he’s young, and unlike the other husbands, he seems to actually be in love with Joe (the other two husbands apparently both claimed they weren’t even gay). Passage doesn’t look much like Timothée Chalamet, but come on – you gotta have Timothée Chalamet in your movies these days. It’s like a rule.
Travis Maldonado – Adam Driver
The most mysterious of Joe’s husbands, Travis Maldonado died after accidentally shooting himself in the head. He struggled with drug addiction, and he has the same sort of shaggy, lanky appearance as Adam Driver. It’s the type of tortured, tragic figure Driver could definitely play to perfection. Again, it’s probably too small a part for Driver, but I’m going with him anyway.
James Garretson – Jack Black
James Garretson is the guy who helped land Joe in jail by becoming an FBI informant. He’s portrayed as something of a comic relief – there’s a slow-motion shot of him riding a jet-ski while “Eye of the Tiger” plays – even though he’s just as shady as pretty much everyone else featured in the damn documentary. It’s a very “go big or go home” part, and that’s why I’ve decided on Jack Black.
Director – Harmony Korine
While only some parts of Tiger King take place in Florida, the entire endeavor has a very “Florida Man” vibe to it. And no one understands that vibe more than Harmony Korine, director of titles like Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum. Tiger King is the type of whacked-out material Korine could have a field-day with. And if he’s not available, here’s a back-up: The Safdie Brothers.
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