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Music Executives on Screen: 10 Memorable Movie Portrayals

Pete Davidson's A&R guy in "The Dirt" prompts a look back at managers and execs in movies from "Ray" to "Bohemian Rhapsody."

In the Netflix biopic “The Dirt,” Pete Davidson of “Saturday Night Live” fame portrays A&R exec Tom Zutaut, the man who signed Motley Crue to Elektra and Guns N’ Roses to Geffen, while veteran character actor David Costabile (“The Wire,” “Billions”) is manager Doc McGhee. They follow in a long and illustrious line of label executives portrayed on screen, ranging from critical and box-office hits like “Ray” and “La Bamba” to lesser-seen music pics like “CBGB” and “The Runaways.” Here’s our list of 10 of the most memorable:

1. Steven Coogan as Tony Wilson (“24 Hour Party People”). Coogan’s brilliant portrayal of the Manchester icon and Factory Records founder in Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film also includes great turns from Paddy Considine as Rob Gretton, the manager of Joy Division and New Order who passed away in 1999, and “Lord of the Rings” star Andy Serkis as Martin Hannett, the noted producer and Factory partner who helped create the sonic template for mixing dance and rock.

2. Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley (“The Runaways”). Shannon was perfectly cast as the creepy, Frankenstein-like Fowley, who not only discovered and drove the pioneering all-girl rock group but was sexually terrorizing them as well. Subsequent revelations have cast a dark cloud over his mentorship, but Shannon captured both the menace and tireless ambition that drove the self-described pop impresario.

3. Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller (“Straight Outta Compton”). Giamatti poured himself into the role of the splenetic manager of N.W.A, who defended their rights as individuals and musicians at the same time as he was allegedly ripping them off, a charge his real-life namesake fought until his death. At almost the same time, Giamatti portrayed another master manipulator, Dr. Eugene Landy — who fancied himself a music executive — in the Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy.”

4. Curtis Armstrong as Ahmet Ertegun (“Ray”). Perfectly cast as the chrome-domed, goatee-wearing hipster in the movie which earned Jamie Foxx an Academy Award, Armstrong also starred as record business pariah Herb Cohen (who famously managed Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt, Tim Buckley and Tom Waits, and founded the Bizarre/Straight label) in the 2003 “My Dinner with Jimi,” produced by Rhino Records’ Harold Bronson.

5. Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy” Combs (“Notorious”). One of several standout performers in the 2009 Biggie Smalls biopic, Luke really tapped into the rap entrepreneur’s cat-like ability to reinvent himself and seize on the opportunities he created for himself.

6. R. Marcos Taylor as Marion “Suge” Knight (“Straight Outta Compton”). A scarily real, authentic portrayal of the one-time football star-turned-bodyguard-turned rap mogul, which added a sense of menace to the movie. Other portrayals of Suge include Sean Ringgold (“Notorious”) and Dominic L. Santana (“All Eyez On Me”), but this one is the closest to the real-life figure.

7. Aidan Gillen as John Reid (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). The Irish actor who portrayed the devious Littlefinger in “Game of Thrones” makes a smooth transition to a sympathetic take on the effete manager of Queen and Elton John, one of several on-point performances that give the film the feel of authenticity. Meanwhile, Mike Myers’ over-the-top fictional EMI exec Ray Foster was based in part on label head Roy Featherstone, a big Queen supporter who thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” was too long to be a radio single.

8. Joe Pantoliano as Bob Keane (“La Bamba”). The man who would become Joey Pants on “The Sopranos” takes on the role of Ritchie Valens’ mentor in the celebrated 1987 film that brought the song, and the performer, back into the public eye. Keane’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years over his involvement in Bobby Fuller’s murder, but this film, at least, paints him as instrumental in the rise of the Pacoima, Calif. kid who died at 17 on “the day the music died” with Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

9. Fred Melamed as Syd Nathan (“Get On Up”). The avuncular Melamed, with his Coke-bottle glasses, proved an excellent fit for the legendary Cincinnati record man who ran King Records — and taught a young Seymour Stein about the business — signing James Brown to the label.

10. Johnny Galecki as Terry Ork (“CBGB”). Hard to imagine the guy from “The Big Bang Theory” playing the man who discovered Television and launched the New York punk era, but Galecki got all the little things right, especially the scarfs the original was so fond of. And while the movie itself didn’t please purists, no one could dispute a great leading performance by the late Alan Rickman as Hilly Krystal.

Rip Torn as Walter Fox (“One Trick Pony”). A bonus pick for a fictionalized take, as Paul Simon used his under-appreciated music business satire to skewer his ex-Columbia Records boss Walter Yetnikoff… and Torn’s vulgar, louche cameo does exactly that.

Runners-Up: Robbie Jarvis as Andrew Loog Oldman (“Jimi: All Is By My Side”), Jonathan Slavin as Phil Spector (“Love and Mercy”), Mark Sherman as Jimmy Iovine (“Straight Outta Compton”), Larenz Tate as Quincy Jones (“Ray”), Richard Schiff as Jerry Wexler (“Ray”) and Trey Wilson as Sam Phillips (“Great Balls of Fire”).

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