A popular T-shirt proclaims, “Music is what feelings sound like.” But if you really want to know what feelings sound like, you may be just as well off asking an actor, not a musician.
After the monumental successes of “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” stars from Johnny Depp to Mike Myers are lining up for roles in musical biopics. For actors, starring in one of these films is like a four-part symphony: part critical acclaim, part instant credibility, part box-office bang and part awards-season appeal. The chance for an Oscar winner and a #1 film all in one is music to Hollywood’s ears, so it comes as no surprise that we’re in for a lot more musical biopics.
Crank your stereo and sing your favorite tune — films based on the lives of these legendary singers are coming your way:
“Pirates of the Caribbean” star Johnny Depp is in early talks to play the late Queen frontman in a biopic being produced by Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions. He is the “perfect choice,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, drummer for Queen tribute band Under Pressure.
“I always had [in mind] somebody with a theatrical background. Not just to wear the costumes, but to wear the actual vibe of Freddie Mercury,” Shapiro said. “Depp’s such a likable guy. The fact that he used Keith Richards [as inspiration] for ’Pirates’ — you can’t go wrong.”
Shapiro believes Depp and Mercury have a lot in common. “They are unique in a way. They carry themselves regally but always deliver,” he said. “A bit foppish at times, but you never have any question that they are good.”
Variety has reported that “I Slept With Joey Ramone,” an authorized biography of the late Ramones frontman written by his brother, Mickey Leigh, was recently optioned by Rory Rosegarten, a producer best known for his work on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The option gives Rosegarten complete access to the singer’s estate and to the band’s punk-rock catalog.
Celebrated as one of the greatest rock bands of all time (in a recent Rolling Stone poll they came in second only to the Beatles), the Ramones’ popularity has continued to grow in recent years, a fact that Lauren Faccidomo of the all-girl tribute band the Ramonas attributes to their universal appeal. “They weren’t bigger than life, they were average guys from New York,” said the Los Angeles musician. “Their music was so catchy and simple and fun — it really crossed genres.”
Life imitated art imitating life for Adrian Grenier when a ploy by his “Entourage” character, Vincent Chase, to star in a Joey Ramone biopic led to rumors that the actor was being considered for an actual film biography of the seminal rocker. While no one would confirm or deny Grenier’s involvement, Faccidomo thinks Hollywood should look elsewhere.
“People know Joey by the way he looks. He’s a weird-looking guy,” she laughed. “Honestly, in body type and looks, Howard Stern is hands down Joey Ramone.”
Mike Myers hasn’t starred in a live-action movie since 2003’s “The Cat in the Hat,” but the “Austin Powers” comic has three slated for 2008, including a Donald Margulies-scripted biopic of Who drummer Keith Moon, produced by Moon’s bandmate Roger Daltrey. “Roger’s dream has always been to have Mike do the role,” Nigel Sinclair, co-producer of the flick, told The New York Times. “He saw Mike as the creative force for pulling the project together, with help from us.”
Director Penelope Spheeris and star Zooey Deschanel will bring the tragic story of the famous rock chanteuse to the big screen in 2008 with The film was originally slated to star Pink and come out in 2005, to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Joplin’s death (see “Both Janis Joplin Biopics Still In The Works — Sorta” ).
Lauren Bernal, lead singer of the tribute band the Kozmic Blues Band, says she hopes filmmakers portray all sides of the singer’s life. “They need to do the whole story, not just all the negative stuff,” Bernal said, referencing Joplin’s infamous battle with heroin addiction. “She wanted a family life, the white picket fence, the kids. Things didn’t go well, and she [eventually] said to hell with it.”
In a further challenge to the filmmakers, Bernal argued that you can’t act your way to being Janis. “It takes a lot out of you — doing Janis is high-energy,” she said. “It’s all about who you are. That voice of hers, that raspiness — it’s natural. There’s nothing fake about it.”
Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, best known for her portrayal of Glinda the Good Witch in the Tony Award-winning “Wicked,” will star as Dusty Springfield in a biopic currently in development for Universal Pictures. The film is being scripted and helmed by Jessica Sharzer, a director whose work includes episodes of “The L Word.” Springfield’s career spanned four decades and peaked with 1969’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” The British soul singer succumbed to cancer in 1999, 10 days before she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The times, they are a-changin’ — but not as quickly as the actors. The Weinstein Company recently announced that it has acquired the rights to Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” a Bob Dylan biopic in which six different actors — including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett — portray the legendary singer.
“[It] has been an extraordinary opportunity, bringing Bob Dylan’s life and work to the screen,” Haynes said. “It has attracted the best talent in film and music.”
Haynes isn’t kidding. Other actors in the movie include Julianne Moore, David Cross and Michelle Williams. The film also boasts an eagerly awaited soundtrack, which will include more than 40 cover versions of Dylan’s most famous work.
“Bob Dylan has lived an unbelievable and at times elusive life,” Company Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein said. “He has countless fans who will now be able to really gain insight into his fascinating life.”
With so many musical biopics in the pipeline, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a spoof is on the way. The salvos, however, are coming not from the usual suspects but from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” director Judd Apatow and John C. Reilly. Directed by Jake Kasdan, “Walk Hard” follows Dewey Cox, a character Reilly describes as “an amalgamation of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings.” “[The film is a] goof on movies like ’Beyond the Sea,’ ’Walk the Line,’ ’Ray,’ ’The Commitments’ and ’Great Balls of Fire,’ the actor said. “We’re having some fun with the musical biopics. We’ve been recording music for it, and it’s quite an ambitious, crazy project.”
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