4 Actors Who Would Have Been Perfect As Light Yagami in a North American Version of “Death Note”
My choice of actors who would be perfect fits as Death Note's Light Tagami, if only Hollywood had allowed them the opportunity.
#DeathNote revolves around the tragic fate, rise and fall, of #LightYagami, a young man in his late teens who happened to chance upon a special notebook with the power to kill; with just a few words, a face in mind, and a name, Light uses the notebook, or the shinigamis’ “death note,” to abruptly change the world order, by eliminating all existing criminal elements in societies worldwide at his sole discretion, and wiping out everyone else—guilty or innocent—who have chosen to stand against him with absolute impunity, thereby effectively forcing his personal brand of justice on the world and elevating himself to something akin to the level of a mortal God.
In this almost Shakespearean story of tragedy, Light goes from innocent and virtuous to twisted and murderous in just several hours as his frequent use of the death note begins to consume him; he becomes obsessed with its nearly-unstoppable capabilities and over time transforms him into a much darker, more cruel, inhospitable, destructive, and violent version of himself, sacrificing his life, friends, relationships, and family in the name of greater, inextinguishable power—a gradual act of corruption that ultimately seals his fate as someone cursed by, and forever trapped into, the inherent blackness surrounding the death notes.
In effect, this transformed mangaka Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata’s modern-day “Greek tragedy” into one of the bestselling, most-loved anime shows and #manga of all the time, having captured the hearts of and fascinated not just the Japanese, but also Westerners and many more people of varying backgrounds all around the world and back. The world has become so enthralled that multiple live-action movies, stage plays, and TV shows were made, most of them spearheaded by Japan.
Over the last several years however, #Hollywood has considered making their own version of the story, intending to adapt it further for Western audiences, something that has generally excited long-time fans of #DeathNote, but also has had them sitting terrified, in painful remembrance of other anime shows Hollywood had shamelessly botched and failed to properly adapt (#Dragonball Evolution easily comes to mind).
Last year though, Hollywood surprised us with some shocking castings, some well-received but most generally disliked.
In particular, #Disney alum and #PaperTowns star, #NatWolff’s casting as the morally complex and menacing yet elusive Light Yagami in #Netflix’s adaptation of the anime has been an enormous subject of controversy, with many hardcore Death Note fans, myself included, strongly opposing director Adam Wingard’s unconventional and a little too commercialized choice for the role of Light. Since the announcement, I’ve thought up some fancasts of the much-loved (and also -hated) character on my own, some of which I think would play out brilliantly if only Hollywood had allowed the opportunity.
Light Yagami is one of the most morally complex, intricately thespic characters and roles of all time, arguably right up there alongside Dexter Morgan, Walter White, and the likes of the Joker and Hannibal Lecter. To say playing him is “difficult” would be a massive understatement. It would take a relatively skilled or experienced actor to pull off a role as complicated and intense as this one, and even then it still wouldn’t be enough.
Much like how Jared Leto and Heath Ledger thoroughly primed themselves to the last detail for the role of the Joker, portraying Light would require just as much internal preparation, if not more.
Requirements: Physical Resemblance
Obviously whoever plays Light must at least resemble him in some way—from his brownish-blond hair, to the slightly pointed shape of his face, to his dashing good looks, towering height, relatively slim and athletic build, and everything else in between.
Requirements: Acting Ability
Once the physical similarities have been straightened out, the next order of the day would be to turn our attention on the actor’s acting abilities—simply, how well he would be able to portray one of the most challenging characters of all time.
It’s only natural to expect a lot from potential contenders. As a character, whether anime or otherwise, Light Yagami can be extremely tricky to play, and also easy to mess up, even for voice actors— After all, he, as a person, is a walking contradiction—when you think you know him, you don’t. Clearly we can’t just have anyone, any actor, waltzing in and taking the role; it has to go to someone seriously talented and extra meticulous about the little details and nuances, like the subtle change in the eyes, the curves of the lips, and of course tone of voice and movements— Everything has to be exact, well-calculated, and precise... just like Light himself, come to think of it.
Requirements: Believability as a Psychopath
Like most cinematic psychopaths, Light lives something of a double life; on the one hand, he seems kind and sweet and polite, charming and every bit the perfect gentleman; on the other hand, he is secretly aggressive, violent, unstable, and manipulative, highly intelligent and every bit the perfect serial killer. This requires the actor playing Light to be a lot of things in one swoop—
Whoever it is needs to be able to skillfully portray a handsome, charming, polite, athletic, and brilliant young man and pretty boy (and matinee idol, ladies’ man, and campus celebrity all bundled in, because that’s also what Light was known as among his peers) with a twisted dark side and scorpion’s tail quietly hidden away—
He needs to be exactly convincing as this quiet, nefariously two-faced, prowling predator that is off the bat hard to read and easy to mistake as a “good guy” who seems to mean no harm on the surface—
And finally, he must be capable of conveying emotional intensity—in varying degrees depending on the scene—with just the eyes (because let’s face it, if everyone in Death Note just paid a little more attention to the subtle changes in Light Yagami’s eyes when nobody is really looking, this guy would have been caught within the first 15 to 20 episodes).
Not everyone has that seamless ability to switch from innocent and morally upright, to menacing, morally corruptible, and elusive and back with ease (something Light is infamous for), but whoever must portray Light has to capable of as much.
The following four individuals I am about to introduce here not only look like Light Yagami, but they also have considerable, highly significant experience playing roles very similar to the aforementioned. Most of them are already known for having played notable killers, manipulative liars, and psychopaths, and in my most objective opinion, will shine perfectly in any well-directed, well-written Death Note adaptation as Light Yagami (or his Western counterpart) just for that exact reason.
Two of these actors are a little too old to play Light, who is high school age, but hey, if Andrew Garfield was able to play teenage Peter Parker at ages 29 to 31, then why not these only slightly older chaps?
If he were just a little younger— easily my top, and only, choice for Light Yagami. Edward “Teddy” Sears was a regular on #MastersOfSex, but was recently introduced to a wider demographic almost two years ago when he played the equally two-faced, highly menacing and elusive The Flash villain, Hunter Zolomon A.K.A. #Zoom, who pretended to be Barry Allen’s mentor-ally, #JayGarrick, to gain his trust, attain a cure for his terminal condition, and ultimately become faster, going one step closer to achieving the rest of his nefarious goals involving the multiverse. A villain who pretended to be friends with the hero so he could achieve his darker goals— now doesn’t that sound familiar?
And just to further fan the hype, several months ago, I posted this same fancast on Instagram and Teddy himself actually responded and gave his personal stamp of approval—
⚡️ - @teddysears (thumbs-up and a lightning emoji, if you can't see it)
Now whether or not he is a massive fan of Death Note, we can’t be too sure, but definitely he has to be familiar with the show otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered to take notice and reply (actors are very busy individuals after all).
#TeddySears will always be my ideal choice to play Light. Age notwithstanding, he’s just perfect for the role in every way. I first saw him on #CW’s #TheFlash acting opposite #GrantGustin’s #BarryAllen, and his eyes and the vicious intensity he brought to the role of #HunterZolomon really got to me; I kept thinking this guy reminded me of someone else. It didn’t take a long time before I realized his striking similarities with Light. Really, honestly—if only he were just a little younger, maybe Wingard could have picked him over Nat.
To those who for some reason or the other can’t seem to remember who this guy is, #ChristianCoulson is known for playing Tom Marvolo Riddle A.K.A. teenage #Voldemort in the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In the film directed by #ChrisColumbus, Christian played the quiet and dashing Tom, who used his own enchanted diary (later revealed to be one of his early Horcruxes) to gain the trust of both Ginny #Weasley and #HarryPotter, first so he could continue using the Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets to kill more Muggle-borns, and upon meeting Harry, kill him as vengeance for what had happened in Godric’s Hollow; he pretended to be nice and equally concerned about the safety of the students in Hogwarts against the horrors of the Chamber to acquire, ultimately, Harry’s trust, only to reveal by the very end his real intentions, much to the shock and horror of the “great and famous Harry Potter.”
Again, sounds awfully familiar to the actions taken by a certain Light Yagami, who, much like Zoom and Tom, pretended to be friends with L and the rest of the #Japanese police force, so he could ultimately eliminate L and continue murdering criminals and others who stood in his way unhindered, all in the name of his alter-ego, #Kira.
Unfortunately however, like Teddy, Christian is a little too old now to play Light, who is supposed to be late high school to early college age (later early to mid-twenties in the second season); he would also make an excellent Light, having already nailed a nearly identical role in the past, but I guess some things are just not meant to be.
My top choice to play Light if Teddy Sears or Christian Coulson happened to be unavailable— and for good reason. #GaspardUlliel is known primarily to international audiences for his performance in 2007’s Hannibal Rising as the charming, brilliant yet deeply psychopathic, cannibalistic #Hannibal Lecter, a role which has earned him great praise in spite of the movie’s generally scathing reviews.
This man knows how to play evil, charming, and Janus like the back of his classically abominable hand, so much so that he makes other B-grade villains in some other shows and movies look like Stormtroopers. This is the guy I ultimately wish could at least be given the chance to read for Adam Wingard, because I really do believe he would make a brilliant Light Yagami that could blow all our anime-riddled minds away. Unfortunately the current director of the Western adaptation seems to have already decided on who he wants for Light; however that doesn’t mean we can’t at least hope for a miracle.
#EvanPeters played the fun-loving, quirky Peter Maximoff, also known as the #Marvel speedster #Quicksilver, in the X-Men reboot-prequels from #Fox—a role for which Evan received widespread critical acclaim. But that’s not all he’s known for— Evan Peters is also one of the breakout stars (if not, the actual, sole breakout star) of the hit #RyanMurphy TV show, #AmericanHorrorStory, where Evan has played a host of different but equally challenging characters across its seven seasons; however he is inarguably best known for his portrayal of Tate Langdon in Season 1, a charming, gothic-ish psychopath responsible for shooting up his own school and killing a number of innocent people.
His performance was known to be dark and chilling, and impressive ultimately, which is what makes him an equally enticing contender as the others for the role of Light Yagami. Like Gaspard, he’s done this sort of thing before, and he is capable of further elevating it. I’m personally interested to see what Evan could bring to the role; maybe in the far future, like the others on the list, he will have that chance, but for now there’s only Nat.
Runner-Up: Zac Efron
So there you have it! Four of my preferred contenders for the role of Light Yagami from Death Note. As runner-up, I suggest also considering Zac Efron because in spite of his Nat Wolff-ish clean-cut Disney past, or his current A-lister, (seemingly) “you can’t touch me” status, the man is the literal spitting image of Light no matter which angle you look at him from—with the acting chops to back it up. He’s gone a looong way from being awkward Troy Bolton in the #HighSchoolMusical series; he’s taken on plenty of intricate, challenging, and fascinating roles, proven his skills far enough over the years.
He hasn’t portrayed any characters similar to Light yet but based on fancasts online over the past several years, in spite of the general “no-way” from those not too familiar with Zac Efron’s complete work, Zac is actually a fan-favorite to play Light, his eerie physical similarities usually mentioned as easy justification. I do believe he is capable of being Light; it’s just that so many people are oddly averse to the idea because of his long-gone / transcended Disney days, so I opted to exclude him from the main list. But he is definitely a close runner-up and worthy of mention—overall a very powerful contender for the role in future adaptations.
Now as much as I still disagree with the casting choices in the current live-action NA Death Note (Wingard’s choice for L included; I'm sure Keith Stanfield is a talented actor but he looks nothing like L), if the current Nat Wolff-Adam Wingard adaptation does pass and eventually transform into finished film, then I say, let’s give these people the benefit of the doubt and hope everything will just turn out for the best; hopefully Nat and Adam (and Willem Dafoe and the other actors) will absolutely kill it in their roles as severely modified versions of the original characters. I’m guessing the output will stray considerably from its source, and will likely be more like Death Note fanfiction than anything else.
Anyway if it doesn’t work out, Hollywood can always do reboots and start over from scratch within a couple years or so, like what they usually do in cases of botched adaptations and castings. Hey, if they were able to do it with #CaptainAmerica, #Hulk, #Deadpool, and #Thor, they sure as hell can do it with Death Note too.
Sometimes Hollywood has to make mistakes before they realize the value of not f*cking with the source material.