We’re closing in on 30 years since the release of Michael Mann’s Los Angeles crime epic Heat, which remains a career highlight for stars like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and, perhaps most of all, Val Kilmer. Kilmer’s turn as bank robber, compulsive gambler and hopeless wife guy Chris Shiherlis is perhaps the best performance of his career; he thrives in a complex role and wins the audience’s affection despite his involvement in several deadly robberies.
A box-office hit upon its release in December 1995, Heat’s reputation has only grown, as new generations of fans have fallen for Mann’s somehow simultaneously sprawling and taut film. When Mann started a book imprint back in 2016, the idea of a Heat prequel novel was already in the pipeline, and the book—by Mann and prolific thriller author Meg Gardiner—was released to positive reviews and massive commercial success in August 2022. The book functions as both prequel and sequel, expanding on the histories of De Niro’s Neil McCauley and Pacino’s Vincent Hanna while also exploring the aftermath of Heat’s events in flash-forward. (Mann and Gardiner’s book also introduces Otis Wardell, a sadistic midwestern criminal who could become an iconic villain if cast correctly.)
Last week, in an interview with Vulture to promote his new film Ferrari, Mann said that while the initial plan wasn’t to turn Heat 2 into a movie, “you can’t separate the two.” He also talked about the book’s “cinematic pace and a story-driven structure,” saying that he wanted to show the events that led the characters to be the versions of themselves we see in the 1995 film. As for casting, Mann said, “You wouldn’t want to do the same thing. Look, this is a crapshoot. You want to reinvent these characters. There are certain qualifications. You have to be a great fucking actor to play McCauley. I think Adam Driver is a great actor, like De Niro. Then who’s Hanna, who’s Chris Shiherlis? Who can take it someplace fresh?”
Mann’s comments have been widely interpreted as confirmation that the McCauley part is Driver’s to lose, although technically the director has only confirmed that he’d consider Driver. “Let me put it this way,” he said during a Deadline Hollywood event in London on October 9th. “Adam and I got along like a house on fire [on Ferrari]. We have the same work ethic – which is pretty intense. We like each other, and we had a great time working together artistically.”
Meanwhile, Al Pacino has suggested that Timothee Chalamet would make a fine Vincent, although online Heat-heads seem to be pulling for Oscar Isaac instead. That leaves Shiherlis, who graduates from supporting character to co-lead in the novel, levelling up to white-collar crime in a subplot involving Taiwanese and Paraguayan gangsters. In a 2022 interview with IGN, Kilmer said he’d like to see a Heat sequel be made, and that he has “a great deal of trust” in Mann. With Heat 2 looking like more of a when than an if, here’s a breakdown of the best casting options for the young Chris Shiherlis.
Butler is one of the few names who has been concretely mentioned in industry rumors about the Shiherlis role. The 32-year-old Elvis star is not a perfect doppelganger for the young Kilmer, but he’s pretty close, and could match the icy beauty and frenetic energy of Shiherlis.
That said, despite the acclaim for his work embodying Elvis Presley across many eras, Butler’s film CV is still relatively light, and he’s played only a few villains, notably the Manson disciple Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A lot could be riding on the reception to his role in Dune: Part Two, where he’ll menace Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, in a performance that director Denis Villeneuve told Empire is “a cross between a psychopath killer, an Olympic sword master, a snake, and Mick Jagger.” If he can bring a more grounded version of that energy to Heat 2, he could be an excellent addition to the cast, and it could cement his transition from rising star to entrenched A-lister.
Butler also has a relatively light slate ahead, and he’s already got one intimidating-criminal role lined up, in the film adaptation of Don Winslow’s novel City on Fire.
Pattinson has already stepped into one iconic Kilmer role in The Batman, so it’s easy to see why the former is already a top name in the Shiherlis conversation. (Pattinson even reportedly attempted to emulate the hushed voice Kilmer used for the Dark Knight, but ultimately went in a different direction.) Pattinson has played more than a few menacing characters recently, in films like The Devil All the Time and The King, but the best barometer for his Shiherlis potential might be his work in Josh and Benny Sadfie’s white-knuckle crime drama Good Time. It’s one of his best performances; even as things spin out of control and his character continues to rope in more unwitting accomplices, we never lose sympathy for him.
Given his ongoing commitment to Matt Reeves’ Batman franchise, the 37-year-old Pattinson may have a particularly tough schedule to accommodate, but he’s certainly the kind of performer whose name will keep coming up for Shiherlis until a final decision is announced.
Aaron Taylor Johnson
Taylor-Johnson is still parrying rumors that he’s been chosen to succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond, so it’s fitting he’s also getting mentioned in the chatter around another iconic role. In recent years, the bashful star of Nowhere Boy and Kick-Ass has found success playing the heavy, from his unnerving (and Golden Globe-winning) work in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals to the more comedic Bullet Train. Taylor-Johnson has some of Kilmer’s cornered-animal energy, and feels like a contemporary version of a kind of ‘90s leading man we don’t see much these days.
Taylor-Johnson has an impressive slate of upcoming projects that could turn him into a household name. A lot depends on the success of Sony’s Marvel-antihero film Kraven the Hunter— which, at the very least, doesn’t look like your cookie-cutter 2020s superhero movie, albeit because of its aggressive Morbius vibes.
Though he’s best known for his work in franchise properties like Star Trek and Wonder Woman, Pine gave the best performance of his career in the tense, tightly structured crime flick Hell or High Water. Playing a reluctant, yet determined bank robber, Pine shined in both the film’s standoffs and its quieter moments. Plus, back in 2020 he was in talks to take on a role once played by Val Kilmer– the conniving Simon Templar in a reboot of 1997’s The Saint.
Shiherlis has to be a character worth rooting for, and Pine is one of Hollywood’s premier charmers, while also showing in projects like Hell or High Water and the criminally underseen Z for Zachariah.
Some publications see Abbott as a contender for Vincent Hanna, and there’s certainly logic to that both aesthetically and creatively, but the 37-year-old actor has quietly carved out a career as one of the most versatile dramatic actors working today, and he could work as Shiherlis, too. In films like The Forgiven and Black Bear, he showcases a slick charisma masking a sense of inner turmoil. He’s also thrived playing the empathetic wild card in films like On the Count of Three.
Abbott has been a staple of the East Coast indie film scene, but with upcoming roles in Kraven the Hunter and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, he seems on the precipice of a new level of notoriety. At his best, he brings a combination of marquee handsomeness and emotional grit that suits Mann’s style and seems consistent with the director’s past leading men, like Pacino, James Caan, and Colin Farrell.
Michael Pitt isn’t a name-brand star, which may take him out of the running, but he bears a physical and facial resemblance to Kilmer, and has a lengthy history in the crime genre. His best performance, as Jimmy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire, feels spiritually linked to a character like Shiherlis. Bill Skarsgård is another young actor with a similar look to Kilmer, particularly given his Swedish heritage. Skarsgård has played plenty of bad guys, and while they’ve typically skewed campier, his work in the It films and as the final big bad of the John Wick franchise, was a blast to watch.
Slash Film floated The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White as a possible fit in 2022. His feature filmography is still relatively light, but the reception to Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw could raise his big screen profile significantly. And the Full Cast and Crew podcast saw Shiherlis potential in Charlie Hunnam. Despite high-profile parts in The Lost City of Z and Pacific Rim, Hunnam has never quite graduated to the A-list, but he has a quiet intensity that could fit the tone of a Michael Mann project well.
And in the category a few rungs beneath the dark horses, it’s worth keeping actors like Taylor Kitsch, Dan Stevens, and Alexander Ludwig in mind.