Fixing Netflix’s Iron Fist: Casting Danny Rand

Ever since I implored Marvel to consider an Asian American actor for the role of Danny Rand in their planned Iron Fist Netflix series last year, the most common reaction has been from non-Asians (usually) whitesplaining why the idea of an Asian American martial artist is racist. The second most common question involves who Marvel/Netflix could cast in the role because there are no Asian American stars who could possibly carry a series. Which is a funny demand because I don’t recall Charlie Cox being a huge movie star pre-Daredevil, but that’s neither here nor there.

Besides, this is Marvel we’re talking about. The same studio that turned the schlubby guy from Parks & Rec into Harrison Ford. Whoever they cast — Asian or not — is guaranteed to be a star anyway. So here are several actors who deserve a shot at Shou-Lao and superhero stardom.

Before we get to the list, though, I want to clarify a few things. The actor who will play Danny Rand must be American — or able to convincingly speak with an American accent. Too many folks conflate Asians and Asian Americans and assume we’re all foreigners. The whole point about my original article was that we didn’t want to lose Danny’s Americaness, and that being Asian American doesn’t preclude him from having experiences similar to his comic book counterpart. Also, keeping Danny American renders your “but Shang-Chi” arguments moot.

Secondly, the actor needs to be in his late 20s or early 30s at least. I know some comic purists will argue Danny was only 19 when he becomes Iron Fist, but I don’t think it’s realistic to cast a kid that young in the role. Sure, he’s a teenager in all of the K’un-Lun scenes, but he’s also got to play an older adult in the present, especially since the other Marvel/Netflix stars are much older: Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) is 32; Kristin Ritter (Jessica Jones) is 33; and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) is 39. Not to mention Simone Missick, the actress playing Danny’s future interest Misty Knight, is 39 as well.

That’s the other reason it makes sense to cast an Asian American actor. Even if they’re in their 30s, they can pull off the scenes of Danny as a teenager! Anyway, on to the list…

Cole Horibe

While being a full-fledged martial artist isn’t necessarily a requirement, it definitely helps when it comes to playing the Iron Fist convincingly. Fortunately for Cole Horibe, he’s got the skills and the acting chops to pull it off. Most importantly, he really wants the role.

Born in Hawaii, the 30-year-old martial artist/dancer/actor first came to national prominence as a finalist on the ninth season of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. Two years later, Horibe took his talents to Broadway and starred as Bruce Lee in David Henry Hwang’s critically acclaimed bio-play, Kung Fu.

It’s no small feat playing the most iconic Asian American movie star in history, and Horibe did it with aplomb on Broadway. I’m sure his sizable SYTYCD following — he made it all the way to Top 6, after all — will follow him anywhere.

Harry Shum Jr.

Next up is one of my favorite picks for Danny Rand, and honestly the actor I was envisioning when I wrote the original piece. Everyone either knows Harry Shum Jr. from his role as Mike Chang for six seasons on Glee (so we already know he can pull of playing a teenager, natch) or his membership in the LXD.

In addition to his physicality and extensive acting experience, the main reason Shum is my favorite is because he exudes the charisma required to bring Danny Rand to life. I can totally see him being a smartass and cracking wise while also cracking skulls.

Come 2016, though, the 33-year old Shum will be earning some nerd cred playing Magnus Bane on ABC Family’s Shadowhunters in January and displaying some martial arts skills in the Crouching Tiger sequel — with none other than Master Yuen Woo-Ping himself — that’s slated for February.

Ironically, this busy schedule is probably the one hurdle for casting him as Danny Rand. He can still play Quick Kick in a future G.I. Joe movie, though.

Ki Hong Lee

Ki Hong Lee is arguably the biggest “rising star” on the list and comes with a lot of nerd cred since he’s a major part of The Maze Runner movie franchise. Though he’s only been acting professionally for a few years, the 29-year old possesses proven range to do everything from dramatic action to romantic comedy.

In fact, his role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shows he can play the romantic love interest, which is an important aspect of the Danny Rand character. There’s also the Netflix connection there. Moreover, his role on Maze Runner means he has experience doing stunts and working with visual effects.

The jury’s out on whether or not he can do the fight scenes justice. But ultimately, that’s a skill that can be learned. I mean, it’s not like Charlie Cox played a blind ninja on Boardwalk Empire before he played Matt Murdock. So lack of martial arts background shouldn’t be a deal breaker here either.

Darren Criss

This might be an out-of-left-field choice, but hear me out. Darren Criss — most famous for playing Blaine Anderson on Glee — needs to be a superhero. Sure, he’s already played one on the show and for Stan Lee, but I think it’s time Darren  got in on the live action superheroing action.

We already know that being a Broadway song-and-dance-man is good enough to get you into the DC Universe, so why not the same for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Like Ki Hong Lee, I don’t know if the 28-year-old Bay Area native has martial arts skills, but we do know he’s a Fighter.

Seriously, Criss — who is part Filipino and Chinese — has the requisite charm to be the lead of any franchise (you could argue for a few seasons there, he was the most popular character on Glee) and his extensive dance training is more than enough preparation for the choreography he’d need to learn for Iron Fist.

The only reason I wouldn’t want him cast as a Marvel superhero is because I’m still holding out hope he’ll join fellow Glee alums Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin in the Berlanti-verse.

Steven Yeun

If Marvel cast Steven Yeun as the lead of any property, much less Iron Fist, I think even the most stubborn fanboy purist would relent. Though he was Alice’s pick to play the MCU Spider-Man, at 31 years old, he was always too old for the direction Marvel was going with Peter Park(er).

That said, his age is right in the sweet spot for where we see Danny Rand in the television series on Netflix. If anyone has built up the nerd capital to play any role he wanted it would be the guy who gave life to Glenn. So I don’t have to go into Yeun’s bona fides for the part, do I?

Well for starters, dude’s already a sex symbol. Also, as I mentioned earlier, his time on The Walking Dead has not only given him a very loyal fanbase, but six-plus seasons of taking out walkers and punching douchebags in the mouth. Plus, he’s shown his funny side in numerous appearances on Conan, so he can pull off Danny’s snarkiness too. Besides, he’s got the time now, right?

So those are just five actors I could see bring the role of Danny Rand to life. In fact, there are tons more who fit the bill as well. Either way, casting any one of these actors in Iron Fist takes nothing away from the story the series will tell. So what are you waiting for, Marvel? Go ahead and lock one of these guys up in your patented ironclad contracts now!

Also published on The MCU Exchange

44 thoughts on “Fixing Netflix’s Iron Fist: Casting Danny Rand

  1. I would love for Darren Criss to finally play a superhero. For some reason it feels like it’s been overdue for a while. Get on it, Hollywood.

  2. I like all of these but I especially liked Cole , who moves beautifully, even though I know nothing about his ability to act. I also like Harry Shum’s humor.
    naturally, being a Walking Dead fan, Steven has all my support, too.
    These are some great choices.
    The others, you listed, I don’t know because I never watched Glee.

  3. Cole Horibe was terrific as Bruce Lee on the stage. On top of his talents, he’s such a smart actor and audiences deserve to see him up close on the big screen. He will do Danny Rand (and many other roles) justice.

  4. Alright I’m one of the people who don’t want Iron Fist to be asian but if he is, I would want
    Harry Shum as Danny
    Byung Hun Lee as Steel Serpent
    What do you think?

  5. I’d go with Criss as a compromise (with Wendell being the white half). That way you preserve Danny’s racial “otherness” from K’un-Lun that provides the undercurrent for Davos’s hatred of both him and his father, and the fact that he’s a rich kid who can pass as white preserves the dynamic between him and Luke (after all, there’s a reason they didn’t burn down the grocery store in Do The Right Thing).

    Unfortunately, Danny is one of the only 616 characters whose race and ethnicity actually matters to his characterization and relationships, along with Luke, Misty, Magneto, T’Challa, Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson and the Bradleys.

  6. This list is just…YAAAASSS! Personally, I would love to see Harry or Steven play Iron Fist, but as you said, with their schedules it may not be a possibility. If so, then anyone else from this list would do nicely 🙂
    Great article!

  7. Cole Horibe is certainly a great, if not, the best choice so far for an updated Danny Rand out there. I’d also nominate Jon Foo though – he also has kung fu and wushu background.

    There should be more lists like this because there are a lot of POC prospects for every fictional character that both film and TV wants to bring to life on the screen.

    P. S. Such a shame that my choice actor to play Dr. Strange, Alexander Siddig, went to Benedict Cumberbatch instead.

    1. Cole would be awesome. And I agree Jon Too would be a great choice as well.

      But I think Rain (Jeong Jihoon) would be fantastic. He was great in Ninja Assassin! Such as badass and he’s got the sex appeal!!! Plenty of it.

  8. A little late to the party but how about 31 year old Taiwanese/Canadian actor/model Godfrey Gao? He gets nerd cred for starring in the (widely and understandably criticised) Mortal Instruments film and has a reasonably American-sounding accent when speaking English!

  9. What about Daniel Wu from “Into the Badlands”? It would require a scheduling juggle, but maybe?

  10. Um… no offense, but no.

    Danny Rand is the son of Wendell Rand and Heather Duncan. Both of his parents were Blonde Haired and Blue Eyed. He is not, nor has he ever been Asian. It would be like having a white Luke Cage. The whole point was that he grew up in America, and then ended up at age 9 in K’un-Lun, and was an outsider. He came back at age 19 and began his superhero career.

  11. Not interested in an Asian Danny Rand. For the record, I’m of South Korean descent. If Iron Fist had never been white, we’d be talking about why the Asian superhero is a stereotypical Kung Fu master. How ironic than that this is the hero we’re pushing to be Asian.

    I want an Asian superhero as well, but not this one. Iron Fist is white, and he was actually the minority among Asians in his time in K’un L’un. At this time in history, does the Asian guy really have to be the karate guy? Let’s pick a different hero please.

  12. Ki Hong Lee was by far the best character in Maze Runner- he pretty much carried the movie whenever he was onscreen, so he’s my choice.

  13. Jon foo would be the best choice because he is a martial artist hand would look bad ass in iron fist costume….

  14. I’am interested in an Asian Danny Rand. For the record, I’m of South Korean descent. But in real life I’m a RED NECk.

  15. Of the list, I vote Darren Criss because he looks white. 😛

    Look, I am sure this will be an unpopular opinion here, but I want Danny to remain white. While I can certainly understand some of the thinking here, if not agree in the slightest, I have waited years for a wealthy white American to be forced to see the urban and impoverished society such capitalist greed can create in our biggest cities. While never more than occasionally on the forefront of Danny’s story, it is a theme certainly explored in his relationship with Luke Cage and Misty Knight, as well as motives and goals in stories like Living Weapon (marginally) and Immortal Iron Fist (repeatedly). I want that story, and without any attempt at fluff or sugarcoating, the relationships on a social and cultural level between wealthy WHITE Americans and other ethnicities is simply different. While I doubt that would be the focus of the series, it would be a theme I would hope to see, just as Jessica Jones touched on abusive relationships and Daredevil focused on friendship, religion and morality with religion.

    I am further hopeful that a lot of Iron Fist will deal with Shang Chi. I think, keeping Danny white but bringing in and giving a lot of focus to Shang, for his eventual split into his own show (much like Luke in Jessica Jones) is the best way to go; Asian Americans would have great representation and a phenomenal character, and the fans of Danny for however many of the last, what, 40ish years, will get to see Mr. Rand faithfully brought to the screen.

  16. I really hate how Hollywood likes to change the ethnicities of the superheroes as shown in the comics. Being a comic collector for several years, I’d appreciate if Marvel would stick to the comics on this one. By the way, I’m 100% Japanese. I thought Daredevil on Netflix was boring while Jessica Jones was not bad.

  17. Definitely no to all of this. Iron Fist is one of my favorite characters and all of these ideas would ruin the show, not fix it. If you want an Asian martial artist in the Marvel-verse they should introduce Shang-Chi(who’s suppose to be a better martial artist than Iron Fist anyway). I hope they stay true to the character and do t try to change him it’s to please ignorant people.

  18. You do realize that in the original source material Danny Rand is a white guy, right ? Why do people with sociopolitical agendas feel its ok to mess with an artists original vision ?

Comments are closed.