Reaction to the recent performance of Penn Badgly playing Jeff Buckley’s arrangement of ‘Lilac Wine’ (originally written by James Shelton) has been mixed to say the least. Fans of the Gossip Girl star, set to play Buckley in one of two forthcoming biopics – his being Greetings From Tim Buckley, the second coming from Jake ‘son of Ridley’ Scott, entitled Mystery White Boy – were quick to point out that Penn was simply covering the song, not ‘playing Jeff’. The naysayers, however, were even quicker to leap on the video as evidence the film would be pissing on a legend, that Bagdly was the wrong pick to immortalise Jeff and that grave-spinning would commence forthwith.
We’ll have to wait until 2013 to find out if either Jeff-pic is worthy of consideration but, with this week’s rumour mill grinding out the news that Zoe Saldana may be attached to play Nina Simone and Sacha Baron Cohen still on the books for a Freddie Mercury film, it looks like films based on your favourite musicians will outlive us all. So, for a bit of mostly harmless fun, we thought we’d play casting director and choose which thespians we’d like to see play our favourite musos.
Scarlett Johansson as Stevie Nicks
First up, some ground rules. It certainly helps if the actor picked has more than a passing resemblance to the singer (no matter how fine an actor he is Steve Buscemi isn’t gonna pull of a portrayal of Biggie Smalls) but with the standard of movie make-up as high as it is, similitude isn’t the be all and end all. With that taken into account we think Scarlett could really get into the heart of Nicks being that any film about the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman is likely to focus on the tumultuous relationships with her bandmates. The alternatives named a few years ago, Lindsey Lohan and Hilary Duff, don’t really bear thinking about. And, as an added incentive, Johansson can actually sing as evidenced by her album of Tom Waits covers.
If busy…Try Zoe Kazan. The writer and star of the rather excellent Ruby Sparks (Coming to a cinema near you October 12th), has showcased her ability to play the more unhinged – read drug-related – aspects of Stevie’s life.
Tilda Swinton as David Bowie
If Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dylan (or at least an ‘incarnation’ of Bob Dylan) in I’m Not There then we think the gender reversal could work to let the Oscar-winning star of Michael Clayton play Mr. Jones. While she may be better known for her heavy work (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Tilda can do comedy (Burn After Reading) and, more importantly, she’s made no secret of Bowie’s influence on her style. With Bowie describing himself as a “closet heterosexual” and both embracing androgyny with gusto, the fact that Swinton is sans winky doesn’t really matter one jot. And the fact that they’re both Londoners should prevent any wobbly accents spoiling things.
If busy…Michael Fassbender showed shades of Bowie in Prometheus, while Benedict Cumberbatch has the trio of Thin, White and Duke nailed.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Buddy Holly
Woo-ee-oo, you like just like Buddy Holly. But Mr. David Tennant you can’t open a film. Man Of The Year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand is now at the enviable stage where his presence could greenlight a modest studio project. Seeing as how biopics rarely break the $40m budget barrier (Walk The Line and Ray both grossed $100m worldwide) it wouldn’t be too great a punt to coerce young Robin Blake into raving on. Bonus points for ability to play guitar also help JGL. That’s if he’s not off making the Bill Hicks biopic for Russell Crowe. Best to step into just one pair of icon’s shoes for now.
If busy…Steve Buscemi did a notable Buddy-a-like in Pulp Fiction, but seeing as he’s now two and half times older than Holly was the day the music died, all the SFX in the world couldn’t make that a possibility again. Gary Busey to play Buddy’s agent and father, L.O. Holley.
Sam Rockwell as Tom Waits
In light of the unearthing of an old interview showing Heath Ledger channelling Tom Waits for his portrayal of the Joker, in an ideal world we’d have no-one else playing the legendary musician but Heath. But, as the imminent return of The X-Factor proves, this isn’t an ideal world. Again, the most interesting part of Waits’ life, from a dramatic point of view, would be his younger years, touring and spending too much time acquainted with the devil’s brew. We can see Sam Rockwell crushing the cathartic release of Waits’ ‘Small Change’ album, complete with a heartbreaking rendition of ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)’.
If busy…Ron Perlman would be a nailed on choice to growl his way through ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ if he wasn’t just shy of being four months younger than Waits. Because if you’re gonna get someone to play Tom Waits as he is now, you get Tom Waits.
Idris Elba as Marvin Gaye
If a writer turned in a script of Marvin Gaye’s life with the name changed he’d be sent back to tell a more believable story. An unhappy childhood at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father. Drug addiction. Divorce and affairs with his singing partners. Bankruptcy. And then that ending. That’s all without a mention of the seminal work he released. It’s a hard one to call but on the backsleeve of ‘What’s Going On’, the way that Gaye holds himself in the leather trenchcoat has echoes of the swagger of Luther (and Stringer Bell) lead Idris Elba. History would suggest the accent isn’t an issue and Idris’ love of good music would certainly influence his decision. For fear of repetition, the fact that he isn’t a twin for Marvin isn’t a factor. The question is can he become him. We think so.
If busy…Janis, Marvin Gaye’s ex-wife, has always claimed that no-one but Denzel Washington would be good enough. Once again, the march of time has put an end to that. Not exactly a name, but another The Wire alumni Chad Coleman (Dennis ‘Cutty’ Wise) has the size and presence necessary. Try pitching that to a studio.
Rhys Ifans as John Lennon
Aaron Johnson, Christopher Eccleston, Paul Rudd and, in a case of unfortunate coincidence of name, an actor called Mark Chapman have all played John Lennon over the past half a decade. But there’s yet to be a definitive fiction film about the ex-Beatle, that is until now. Rhys Ifans is John Lennon. He’s played real life figures before, most notably Howard Marks and The Earl of Oxford. He’ll have got tips on copying Lennon from Oasis, having starred in the video for ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’. He’s got the long face. Liverpool is near Wales. Or did we just pick him so we could say ‘Give Rhys A Chance’. (sorry)
If busy…Try Daniel Radcliffe. Well most under 12s thought it was little Harry Potter’s face being formed at the Olympics closing ceremony rather than the man soundtracking every other tune. Kids today.
What are your picks? Michael Fassbender to play Michael Stipe? Simon Pegg to play Thom Yorke? Andy Serkis and the team at WETA to play Liam Gallagher? The floor is yours.