While groundbreaking avant-garde artist Andy Warhol may have once (quite memorably and presciently, considering the horrifying rise of a little something called “reality television”) prophesized that everyone would be “world-famous for 15 minutes,” the fame-based world doesn’t seem interested in abandoning his likeness, even decades after his death. Joining a long line of actors (famous or not, but all certainly trying to be), Willem Dafoe is the latest to take on Warhol’s signature look for a big screen outing. AlloCine reports (via The Playlist) that Dafoe will star as the pop artist in Bertrand Bonello’s currently filming “Saint Laurent,” a biopic about fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Gaspard Ulliel will star as St. Laurent, and the rest of the impressive cast includes Olga Kurylenko, Jérémie Renier, Léa Seydoux, Louis Garrel, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, and Amira Casar.
The casting puts Dafoe in good company, as Warhol’s likeness has been brought to the big screen a hefty number of times before – by cursory count, at least thirty, counting television - and he joins such names as David Bowie, Guy Pearce, and Crispin Glover as Warhol wannabes. Warhol’s on-screen portrayals have served very different purposes over the years, from straight biographical takes to very specific humor, but his presence always comes with a strange level of quick recognition, even for movie fans who don’t know anything about the art he made (Campbell’s Soup cans aside).
Putting Warhol as a character into a film dates it and sets a specific tone – once you see that shock of platinum blond hair (a wig) and his thick-rimmed glasses, it’s somehow instantly the height of the 1960’s art scene. Saint Laurent has a particularly perfect connection to Warhol and that specific scene – Warhol famously photographed him (with Polaroids, at that) for a series of portraits that eventually became one of his iconic paneled pop pieces. In this case, Warhol as character fits, though that’s not always the case.
On the biopic side of cinema, Warhol remains a perennially popular character, even if he’s not the main dish. He’s been memorably portrayed on screen numerous times, but turns by Guy Pearce in “Factory Girl” (starring alongside Sienna Miller as Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick), David Bowie in “Basquait” (a strangely compelling performance, considering the two were peers and had interacted socially), Jared Harris in “I Shot Andy Warhol” (yes, Lane Pryce), and Crispin Glover in “The Doors” (basically just doing his “Crispin Glover” thing all over the role) all stand out. Warhol himself has never been the subject of a fully encompassing biopic, though Gus Van Sant was planning one with star River Phoenix back in the nineties, a project that was cancelled after Phoenix’s death in 1993.
When it comes to simply dating a film or placing it in the “right” era, Warhol has assured his iconic status, with his likeness popping up in such films as “Watchmen” (with Greg Travis playing him during the opening credits), “Men in Black III” (where Bill Hader added some well-timed laughs to the creation of his most famous paintings), “Death Becomes Her” (Bob Swain played the age-defying artist in a party scene), and even “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (Mark Bringelson’s turn as Warhol is probably the most well-known fake Warhol bit ever). If you’re not sure your sixties-set film feels “sixties” enough, throw in some Warhol action, and you’ve got instant decade-dating, silly as it may seem.
For all his wig-wearing, Warhol was notoriously unafraid of playing himself on screen – his acting credits as “himself” run the gamut from a guest part on “The Love Boat” to a cameo in “Tootsie” to numerous documentary appearances. Warhol also frequently moved behind the camera as the director of over 80 films (mostly shorts and experimental art joints). The deceased American treasure/artist/fake hair aficionado certainly doesn’t need anyone else putting on his face for fun, but even Warhol would likely appreciate the desire to replicate an original for creative pursuits.