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Casting Young Hollywood Stars in ‘Red Dawn,’ Before They Were Stars

When “Red Dawn” was released in 1984, the Reagan-era Cold War action thriller turned unknown actors Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, C. Thomas Howell, and Lea Thompson into Hollywood stars almost overnight. So to cast a contemporary remake of the movie 25 years later, producer Tripp Vinson worked with director Dan Bradley and casting director Deborah Aquila to put together an ensemble of young actors who could become the likely stars of tomorrow.

“It was actually incredibly liberating to be able to cast a movie in that fashion, because it’s rare,” Vinson says. “Usually there’s a lot of pressure to cast people who are established movie stars, but for this project we inherently had to cast young people. And because of that, nobody had really broken out yet. It worked out great, because many of the people that we cast ended up becoming stars over the last few years.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the theater. Shortly after production on “Red Dawn” wrapped in 2009, MGM went bankrupt, halting the distribution of the studio’s films. By the time MGM emerged from its financial woes and scheduled “Red Dawn” to be released this year on Nov. 21, cast members Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, and Adrianne Palicki had already proved themselves as part of the next generation of bona fide box office draws.

So how did this cast come together?

Hemsworth landed the lead role of Jed Eckert after impressing casting director Deborah Aquila at his initial audition. (The Australian actor, who at the time was a complete unknown in the States aside from a cameo in “Star Trek” in 2009, read for “Red Dawn” the same week that he auditioned to star as the titular superhero in Marvel’s “Thor.”) “I remember her being extremely excited about him,” Vinson says. “She set up another reading for the other producers and myself and the director, and Hemsworth came in and read the next day. He did an amazing job. He’s an exceptional actor, and we knew right away that we wanted to cast him.”

Before casting him as Jed’s younger brother Matt, Vinson originally met Peck (“The Wackness”) to discuss a different project. “He came into my office for a general meeting, and then when this role in [‘Red Dawn’] came about we were all like, ‘Hmm, maybe he could be right for that.’ ”

Hutcherson starred in the 2008 film “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which Vinson produced. “Josh Hutcherson was somebody that we had worked with before, and he was perfect for the role of Robert,” says Vinson.

And Palicki was a breakout star of the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” and “I knew her socially,” Vinson says, “so she was already kind of in our minds when we started talking about that role.”

Did Vinson feel compelled to match the original ’80s ensemble when casting his remake?

“There’s a lot of pressure on you to find the right people for ‘Red Dawn’ when you’re going up against actors like Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, and C. Thomas Howell,” Vinson says. “They had a phenomenal cast for that movie, and they set the bar very high. We knew that we were going to be compared to that, so that was an influence, but we didn’t look at it specifically as ‘We need to find somebody that’s like Patrick Swayze’ or ‘We need to find somebody like Charlie Sheen.’ You don’t do that. I think of the character as what’s on the page. Who’s the best person for this role? Our script’s different than what they had, so our needs are different. You need to find the right person for the part as written.”

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