Joaquin Phoenix’s casting in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” has proven controversial, given who he’s playing in Gus Van Sant’s film: John Callahan, a quadriplegic cartoonist, musician, and artist. Van Sant addressed the controversy from the IndieWire Studio at the Sundance Film Festival, saying that Callahan himself “wanted the most famous person in the world to play him” and wouldn’t have been bothered by an actor without his own disability taking on the role. Watch below.
“This often comes up with all kinds of lead roles — who are the people playing the lead roles, do they have anything in common with the role itself?” Van Sant said. “I definitely would have used a particular person that was quadriplegic if they were the right actor,” he added, just as composer Danny Elfman chimed in: “A significant part of the story is before the incident, so to do that would have meant completely changing the story, because that’s a major part of the story — before and after the accident.”
“It comes up with so many roles, especially gay roles,” Van Sant continued. “Having Sean Penn was one of the more obvious ones. A person with a particular C5-C6 quadriplegia that John had is very specific, so it would be very hard to do. There was a sort of issue of what John wanted and I think, honestly, if I’d suggested it to John, he would have said, ‘Fuck no.’ Because he wanted the most famous person in the world to play him, which was Robin Williams — he couldn’t wait.”
Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black co-star in the film, which Van Sant adapted from Callahan’s memoir of the same name. “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” premieres at Sundance today and will be released by Amazon on May 11.