In light of the most recent spate music biopics that have been announced but will likely take years to see the light of day, if at all — Anita O’Day and Nina Simone, to name just a couple — (Click here to read my Weekly article on the topic) I thought I’d don my casting director hat and see if some logical pairings might make for some convincing drama.
Perhaps the genre’s biggest challenge is casting an actor who is as charismatic as the artist they’re portraying, which is no mean feat. If the prospect can sing or play an instrument convincingly and look like the subject, then we should just start drawing up a budget. The following match-ups strike me as particularly uncanny:
Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin: Hudson, who won an Oscar for playing Effie White in “Dreamgirls,” proved in that film that she has the Queen of Soul’s booming range and Big Mama magnetism to spare. In fact, Effie’s character could very well have been as informed by Franklin as James “Thunder” Early was by James Brown. (Substitute Queen Latifah for Hudson, if necessary.)
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Patti Smith: Their physical resemblance can’t be denied, and Gainsbourg has been steadily gaining stature as a chanteuse in her own right. Now if Gainsbourg can sound less like Nico and more like the queen of New York’s ’70s punk scene — and shake that French accent in the process — then we’re cooking with gas.
Crystal Bowersox as Janis Joplin: OK, so the “American Idol” runner-up (and critical fave) isn’t an actress, but she must have some thespian prowess in pretending to care what Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson had to say. Besides, Bowersox touts some pretty impressive pipes, and her “Idol” version of “Me and Bobby McGee” could’ve served as an unofficial audition for the Joplin role. Certainly Bowersox’s disheveled, backwoods beauty is certainly closer to the rough-hewn, love-starved Joplin than Zooey Deschanel or Pink, two actresses who were in the running for long-gestating, dueling Joplin pics.
Duffy as Dusty Springfield: Here we have yet another singer who’s not an actress, but Duffy shares Springfield’s flaxen mane, English heritage and gift for phrasing. If Duffy’s emotional range as a vocalist could be translated at least partially into play-acting drama, then move over Nicole Kidman and Kristin Chenoweth…