Why it was almost impossible to cast the Mel Gibson role in the new 'Lethal Weapon'

The producers behind Fox’s television reboot of the “Lethal Weapon” film series found that Mel Gibson is a tough act to follow.

Early in the adaptation process, writer and executive producer Matt Miller got the blessing from the director of the “Lethal Weapon” films, Richard Donner, though he had one caveat.

“If you don’t have the right guys, you’re screwed,” Donner said, as Miller recounted during the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills on Monday.

Miller understood what Donner was saying. Whoever they cast would have to make viewers forget about the film’s stars Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.

“Two guys played these roles really, really famously,” Miller said.

Comedian and actor Damon Wayans came on very early in the process as veteran cop Roger Murtaugh. But it took much longer to find someone who could step into the shoes of Gibson’s character, Martin Riggs. Wayans read with a lot of actors, the producer said.

“It was hard to find Riggs,” Miller explained. “And the thing was, every actor who came in, whether they knew it or not, they were sort of doing a Mel Gibson impression, and that was never going to work.”

Lethal weapon foxRichard Foreman/FOXFrom left, Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford.

But then they auditioned Clayne Crawford. The producers found him while he was shooting an independent movie, but some TV viewers will recognise him from Sundance TV’s “Rectify.” In comparision to Gibson, he played the character in a less crazy and unhinged manner.

That style fits the rebooted role. When the pilot introduces Martin Riggs in Texas, he’s about to experience the biggest loss of his life. Months later, he moves to Los Angeles for a fresh start and gets paired with seasoned cop Roger Murtaugh.

Crawford, who lives on a farm in Alabama, admitted he had some reservations about taking the part and said he literally went to the top of a mountain to make the decision to leave his farm far away from Hollywood for the job.

But after what it took to find Crawford, Miller was sure about recruiting the actor for “Lethal Weapon.”

“Let’s take him away from happiness and bring him to LA,” the producer joked. 

Miller said of the casting of his stars: “I’m most proud of that part of that. You watch Damon and Clayne and they’re amazing together.”

Crawford admitted the show is fun to shoot, but there’s still some trepidation.

“It’s scary going to work every day,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to maintain this.”

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