In determining options for this list — based on Friday’s breaking news — possible stage we considered actors who met at least one of the following criteria: They must be prevalent on television, familiar with or capable of handling Aaron Sorkin’s lengthy monologues with rapid reads, or simply too perfect for the role. Admittedly, some actors below are unlikely to agree to participate in the NBC production, but that shouldn’t keep us from dreaming they might. After all, Sorkin has always been an idealist and a dreamer, so anyone adapting his work should share the same aspirations.
Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise)
When considering who can fill the shoes of not only an iconic character but also one of the world’s most recognizable actors, it’s important to remember whoever is cast will be redefining the role. No one should be trying to copy Tom Cruise’s jittery mannerisms or near-cracking vocal delivery. He or she should remember who Lt. Kaffee is: a whip-smart but inexperienced young lawyer, with a lackadaisical streak in need of breaking. And when he breaks, he goes all out, passionately defending his clients to the point of telling them what’s best for them — even if they’re not ready to hear it.
That’s why we like Joseph Gordon Levitt for the lead role. One of Kaffee’s best traits — and Cruise’s, for that matter — is his ability to be an absolute asshole while remaining charming. He’s inherently likable, a characteristic lacking in many of the up-and-coming leading men out there. Gordon-Levitt can absolutely pull this off, as well as the intense and climactic courtroom scene opposite Col. Jessup. Chris Messina, meanwhile, has proven capable of handling Sorkin’s speeches in “The Newsroom,” while James Wolk (Bob Benson!) and Bradley Cooper just fit the part well. Anthony Mackie would also make a compelling choice, considering his amble military experience (as an actor) and winning smile.
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Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson)
The character of Jessup is legendary for five simple words: “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH.” But that’s just the climax of a relatively restrained but seething performance by Jack Nicholson — the play demands an actor of both great talent and great endurance. Yes, there are women on this list (get used to that) as well as Alec Baldwin — an NBC live performance veteran after countless “SNL” appearances and two episodes of “30 Rock” — and Sorkin alums Martin Sheen and Jeff Daniels. Because if you don’t think Glenn Close would do justice to the role… Well, just try saying that to her face.
Lt. Cdr. JoAnn Galloway (Demi Moore)
Demi Moore’s undeniable toughness made her a perfect foil for Tom Cruise’s wisecracking and rather asinine behavior, so anyone following in her footsteps has to have equal levels of steel. Fortunately, each one of these actors, from Cobie Smulders to Olivia Munn, has shown an ability to go toe-to-toe with the opposition — and take them down.
Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak)
Weinberg largely functions in a sidekick role, albeit a sidekick with most of the play’s funniest lines — though maybe that’s because of Kevin Pollak’s stellar delivery. So whoever follows in his footsteps has a lot to live up to — could Sorkin vets Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina be as amusing? Could Amy Schumer be as down-to-earth? Could Rashida Jones be as memorable? We think so, but fortunately, television is ripe with great comedic actors these days. (When we kept putting “Happy Endings” alumni on this list, we decided to give up and just suggest all of them.)
Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon)
How do you replace Kevin Bacon? Ideally, with Kevin Bacon. Though it would be admittedly difficult to explain how a very young Daniel Kaffee was longtime friends with a much older Jack Ross, it would be worth the odd exposition if it meant having Kevin Bacon reprise his role from the film version. Alternatives include Matthew Perry, a Sorkin vet from “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (who also has a warm relationship with NBC), and Kate Mara, an actress who’s proven her verve with roles in “House of Cards” and “American Horror Story.” Ben Foster may be the most capable and best thespian of the bunch, but John Cho could be a fun and fine sleeper choice. He could certainly use the work.
Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland)
As Jessup’s second-in-command and protege, Lt. Kendrick needs to be as volatile as his crotchety superior while showing a vehement distaste for young whippersnappers in white suits. Who better to have looking down his nose at a lowly Daniel Kaffee than Jon Hamm, a man built on the image of Don Draper’s mental and physical superiority? If not Hamm, then a sneering Woody Harrelson would certainly work (he could even play Jessup, if given the option). J.K. Simmons has recently proven his ability to be a terrifyingly strict villain thanks to “Whiplash,” while Mads Mikkelson would have to master an American accent to pull off the military role (we have no doubt he can do so with vigor). Last but certainly not least is Robin Wright, a frighteningly cold second-in-command to Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards.” She, perhaps, should’ve been our first pick…
Judge Julius Alexander Randolph (J.A. Preston)
Playing the judge in a courtroom drama can be a thankless role, but the veteran actor knows it can be one of acting’s easiest gigs — because you get to sit behind a desk and just try to remember when you’re supposed to say “Overruled.” It’s also the sort of role that a great actor can make into something memorable (just witness the many unique characters who have sat behind the bench on “The Good Wife”). Whether the character’s name is Julius — for, say, Kevin Spacey — or changed to Julia — for ex-judge Kate Walsh or “Orange is the New Black” star Kate Mulgrew — judging this case is another opportunity to incorporate a great character actor into the mix.
Man in Bar (Aaron Sorkin)
“A Few Good Men” wouldn’t be “A Few Good Men” without Aaron Sorkin. Not only should he be involved on at least the executive producer level, but it would be particularly insightful to bring him back as an actor, as well. In the film version, the playwright-turned-screenwriter was a lawyer in the bar talking to a woman about one of his cases before more pressing issues came up for the camera to swing to, and he should have the same role in NBC’s stage version. After all, he wrote the original play. A new, bigger, louder version wouldn’t be the same without his bravura presence.