With the success of Les Misérables as a movie musical, including Golden Globe wins and Oscar nominations, talks for a Miss Saigon film are apparently in the preliminary stages. According to a sources, including Musical Theatre News, Hugh Jackman, who picked up a Golden Globe this past weekend, has been approached to play the Engineer, the skeevy pimp at the Saigon brothel/bar that matches the two lovers, Kim and Chris together (there are other sources who’ve declined to name the character, but based on his age, there is no way he is going for the male romantic lead. Chris is supposed to be in his 20s). I am actually surprised that this is even considered, after the major controversy back in the early 90s when Jonathan Pryce made his debut on Broadway (to the point that Miss Saigon was almost cancelled).
Hugh Jackman (seen here receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December, 2012) was apparently approached to be in the Miss Saigon film
The Engineer is supposed to be Eurasian – mixed Vietnamese and French – and this upset a lot of actors of Asian descent when the show opened on Broadway as there are already not enough roles for them. And turning the character European would not only cause an uproar, but it doesn’t really make any sense. If the Engineer was of full French descent (or appeared to be fully European), wouldn’t he have left a long time ago? Would he be referred to as a “half-breed” in one of the songs? And why would he be singing about “The American Dream” – that big number of an imagined “glamorous” (really, sleazy) life? It’s just not something that an expat (or a child of expats) would do, would it? As for Asian-looking make-up, I don’t think Hollywood’s going to go there. This isn’t something like the movie Cloud Atlas (which only got away with different-race make-up on some of the actors because they were technically they were playing the same person (metaphysically, anyway) in different time periods. They, nonetheless, received criticism), opera or a Saturday Night Live sketch. Finally, the Engineer’s mixed heritage is likely the reason why he runs a brothel – he is an outcast, so why not work amongst them?
Even of Hugh Jackman was of Asian descent, he really isn’t right for the role. The Engineer is not exactly a dramatic role. He is creepy, but at the same time, comedic in a tacky sort of way. I’ve seen the musical twice and looking back, he is actually a bit like the caricatures one might see on a reality show. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, tends to play romantic leads or action roles in both period and modern settings. The Engineer is just way, way out for him. As for other characters, I don’t think he’d be considered for those roles, either. As noted earlier, Hugh Jackman is much too old to play Chris, and John, the other American character, is typically played by a black actor (and again, usually someone who is fairly young).
Keanu Reeves, who is of mixed East Asian and European heritage (seen here at the premiere of Cloud Atlas in 2012), would be much more appropriate for the role
While it’s more likely that someone of “full” Asian descent will be offered the role, in the ideal world, the role should be offered to someone who is actually of mixed heritage. Maybe they should look into considering Keanu Reeves. Keanu is English on his mother’s side, Chinese and Hawaiian on his dad’s. He can do comedy (Bill and Ted, anyone?), can pull of a greasy, sleazy look and has been performing in a band for years. In addition, he hasn’t really had a major hit since The Matrix trilogy. It’s time for Ted/Neo to make a comeback.