Yesterday afternoon, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of Ernie Cline’s sci-fi novel Ready Player One is close to casting Bates Motel and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl star Olivia Cooke as the female lead. I am a big fan of her work in Bates Motel. So, I’m instantly excited to see her attached to such a high profile role. As the news trickled down to all of the film news sites, I kept seeing headlines indicating Cooke had landed the lead role of the whole movie. I found this particularly encouraging because here was proof that despite the recent box office failures of Jupiter Ascending and Tomorrowland a major Hollywood studio, in this case Warner Bros., was not shying away from making another big budget genre picture with a hero’s journey story in which the hero happens to be a female.
By the time I finally had the time to read the original THR article late last night I was surprised to see that the part Cooke is currently circling is merely the love interest to the main male character. Wait, in a post-Hunger Games world haven’t we moved past the idea that movies of a certain scale must appeal to teenage boys and thus feature male proxies they can latch onto? When it makes sense, it still works, like in The Maze Runner. Of course, that has a literary source where the main character is male, and the same goes for Ready Player One.
Ernie Cline’s novel is kind of like Wily Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the World of Warcraft crowd. It’s set in a 2044 where the real world has become so ugly that people find it preferable to jack into a virtual utopia called OASIS, but when the creator of the virtual world dies his will sets up a competition which will cede his vast fortune and business empire to the OASIS user who can find a specific hidden Easter Egg. The main character is a poor Oklahoma City teenager named Wade Watts who completes the first task in the puzzle after most other OASIS users had given up, and his surprising progress renews interest in the contest and sets off a fiery competition.
One of Wade’s chief rivals is a famous Canadian blogger named Sam (short for Samantha) who goes by Art3mis in OASIS. She’s someone Wade had a crush on before the competition began, thus making her both a love interest and rival, and that’s the part Cooke will play if her casting is finalized. But why can’t she be the protagonist instead of a supporting character?
It occurs to me that I might be making something out of nothing here. The main character in the book is a guy, and now it’s being adapted by a director (Spielberg) who has a longer history with young male characters than he does with young female characters (though of course there’s Drew Berrymore in E.T., Ariana Richards in Jurassic Park, etc.). However, I remember Geena Davis’ THR essay suggesting that one way easy step to make Hollywood less sexist would be for producers to, “Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch.”
Granted, Davis meant that more in application to crowd scenes and secondary roles, but would a Ready Player One movie be more interesting if that poor Oklahoma City kid just happened to be a girl? Or is this a Edge of Tomorrow situation where the better role is actually of the woman who is a mini-celebrity? Could Sam/Art3mis in a Ready Player Ones movie be a badass like Emily Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski in Edge of Tomorrow? Could Olivia Cooke steal this movie from whoever they cast as the main guy the same way Blunt stole Tomorrow from Tom Cruise?
Full disclosure: I have yet to read Ready Player One. So, I now turn it to those of you that have. Is Olivia Cooke on the verge of landing the best role in the whole story?