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Who will play Moe in the Three Stooges remake?

The original Three Stooges: Moe Howard, Shemp Howard and Larry Fine. Casting continues for the movie remake.

Courtesy Everett Collection/Courtesy Everett Collection

Oh, who will be this generation's rightful Moe? Or, as the French might say, le Moe juste? Since the mid-nineties, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the team behind There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, have been talking about their Three Stooges movie. To date, the bowl-cut master of head-cracking and eye pokes, the brains behind the brainlessness of the Three Stooges, remains uncast.

Therein lie some insights into the vagaries of the Hollywood casting process. As recently as two years ago, The Three Stooges was looming as either a triumph of improbability or a grand folly, with a cast that included Benicio Del Toro as mean Moe, Sean Penn as birdbrained Larry and Jim Carrey as the infantile Curly. Then, the studio, MGM, went into financial meltdown and the Stooges movie was in doubt.

Since then, it has been resurrected at a new studio (20th Century Fox) and recast, with Sean Hayes as Larry and Will Sasso as Curly.

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Now the Moe front-runners seem to be Hank Azaria, James Marsden ( Hop) and Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame. Canny observers may note that this represents a demographic shift (younger viewers), undoubtedly a lower budget, and a general downgrade in expectations. True, Sofia Vergara, the sexy star of Modern Family, will also be in the film, though not as Moe, even though she's a brunette with a potential cruel streak.

Over the past 15 years, names bruited about for the Stooges have included Russell Crowe as Moe, and even Mel Gibson as some stooge. Gibson, who apparently has a passion for Curly, worked Stooges references into his Lethal Weapon movies and produced the ABC Three Stooges biopic in 2000.

All this suggests that casting is far more capricious than we are typically led to believe. Directors often claim casting is the greater part of their job: 50 per cent (Steven Spielberg), 65 per cent (John Frankenheimer), or 75 per cent (attributed to Alfred Hitchcock). Movie history is filled with examples of original casting choices that could have gone very wrong. Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future, O.J. Simpson in The Terminator, Robert Redford in The Graduate, John Travolta in Forrest Gump or Ben Affleck in Brokeback Mountain.

Given the supposed importance of casting, though, only a few casting directors have achieved much prominence: Ellen Chenoweth for the Coen brothers' movies or Laray Mayfield with David Fincher. In recent years, there's been a push to give an Oscar for casting directors, which the academy has resisted. Bruce Davis, the academy's recent executive director, said that with directors and producers calling the shots "there's no easy way to tell who did the casting in a movie."

In many cases, the choice is less a case of who is right than who is available. Mel Gibson dropped out of Hangover 2, so he was replaced by Liam Neeson, but when Neeson couldn't do the necessary reshoots, in stepped Nick Cassavetes. These guys just don't seem that interchangeable.

Meanwhile, The Stooges, Moe-less, is scheduled to go into production in a few months for a movie that will come out next year. The Farrellys insist, as directors usually do, that they're looking for the best actors, not necessarily stars. Their Los Angeles-based casting director is Rick Montgomery, who has worked with the brothers since their 1998 breakthrough with There's Something About Mary. Which gets you thinking: Ben Stiller for Moe? He's got that Little Fockers family demographic and he scowls well. Now all that's required is to hire a personal trainer to limber up his poking fingers, and a wig-fitting.

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