If a popular book exists, Tumblr is chock full of ideas for an imagined adaptation.
The fan casting goes beyond dreaming up who would play who in a hypothetical movie. Mood boards, GIF sets, and fan edits pay homage to users’ favorite material, collaged from a multitude of sources to capture the essence of a novel or series. While Tumblr is a haven for fan art, the same habits are just as present on Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. And so often fans, regardless of platform, cast characters of a certain type with the same dream actors.
Ben Barnes, who broke out in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and recently appeared on Westworld and The Punisher, is a particularly popular choice to fan cast in the role of Tall, Dark, and Handsome Guy. For years he was the go-to choice for Marauders Era Sirius Black in the Harry Potter fandom. Barnes also became the common casting for Shadow and Bones’ Darkling, a powerful Shadow Summoner in charge of Ravka’s Grisha army in the first Grishaverse trilogy.
The twist is that, in 2019, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone actually cast Barnes as Darkling. And with that, a million Tumblr edits came to life, sparking excitement for fans on the platform. The fantasy series was already popular on Tumblr, but casting Barnes as the brooding General Kirigan (what the Darkling is known as in the show) was a perfect storm. And it’s paying off: According to Tumblr data shared with Polygon, the past month saw engagement of the site’s “Ben Barnes” tag surge 639%, with buzz for Shadow and Bone also skyrocketing 594%.
Though Barnes has an association with Tumblr fandom, and holds a special place in the hearts of Grishaverse fans, showrunner Eric Heisserer tells Polygon he had no idea of the actor’s connection to the role. Barnes had previously worked with Heisserer’s wife Christine Boylan on The Punisher, and he just came to mind during the casting process. But when he suggested the choice to Grishaverse author Leigh Bardugo, the choice sparked a memory.
“I had this old Tumblr post where somebody had done an edit of Ben with this fantastic quote, as the Darkling,” she laughs. “And I sent it to Eric, and I was like, ‘Thumbs up for me.’”
Heisserer says he didn’t settle on his Darkling because of the fandom connection either. Boylan had told him that not only was Barnes a good actor, but he was also a genuinely good person. The showrunner thought that would be an important quality for someone who could act as a mentor figure for a relatively younger cast. So he got lunch with Barnes to discuss the role. While Heisserer was only aware of Barnes’ connection to the character through Bardugo, it turned out that the actor himself had a little more awareness of the phenomenon.
“Toward the end of the lunch, Ben slid over his phone at me,” recounts Heisserer. “And it was the same Tumblr post, [and he was] like, ‘You’re gonna hire me now, aren’t you?’”
Shadow and Bone hits Netflix on April 23.