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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Are there any celebrities or historical personages that no actor could or should portray onscreen?

It seems that French screen legend Brigitte Bardot thinks no could possibly stand in for her in a film about her life. Via the French news agency AFP:

French screen siren Brigitte Bardot warned Thursday she would not authorise Hollywood film makers to shoot a movie about her life, arguing that no other actress could capture her personality.

“There is no one who can do it,” said Bardot, 76, a 1950s and 1960s sex symbol and star of “And God Created Women” who retired from acting in the 1970s and became an animal rights activist.

“They have their own personality, but they don’t have mine,” she said on French radio station Europe 1.

Bardot is upset over the reports that filmmaker Kyle Newman (Fanboys) is planning a biopic — without Bardot’s involvement — to star his wife, actress and model Jaime King.
It’s one thing for Bardot to fume over an unauthorized biopic, which seems reasonable, even if she’s unlikely to have any legal standing to stop it. But it’s another thing entirely to suggest that no one could possibly portray her onscreen. It raises an interesting question, though, aside from Bardot’s own egotism:

Are there any celebrities or historical personages that no actor could or should portray onscreen?

I can’t think of one. And I am thinking of the fascinating film I’m Not There, which presents multiple “versions” of Bob Dylan, played by a wide variety of actors, including a woman and a child. It’s an audacious project, but it works.

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Rose

    Samuel Johnson – Strange, physically imposing person, rude with lots of physical tics and odd mannerisms and yet an authoritative, wise and noble man – and also a big child, and a depressive and a joker – all in all, he was just too much to display on the big screen.

    and very few people could get the weird giddiness/experience thing of Samuel Pepys.

  • drewryce

    Robbie Coltrane as Cracker: “Strange, physically imposing person, rude with lots of physical tics and odd mannerisms and yet an authoritative, wise and noble man – and also a big child, and a depressive and a joker”

    If you can get a great performance as Ghandi or Churchill you can, in theory at least, get anybody.

    Some historic personages are still too recent. A performance would be loaded with too much baggage. Bin Ladin for example.

  • JoshDM

    Andre the Giant.

  • Lisa

    Hugh Bonneville and Steve Coogan both had a go at Pepys. I’m of the view that anything is fair game, well, mostly.

  • Rose

    Robbie Coltrane tried Samuel Johnson once – but that was in Blackadder and didn’t try to get the whole thing going on. Be interesting to see a Johnson film, maybe a film version of According to Queeny – in memory of Beryl Bainbridge.

    Bonneville and Coogan (one in Stage Beauty and the other in The Private Life of Samuel Pepys) both played him as a buffoon and neglected the anal part of him that reformed the whole organisation side of the navy.

  • bronxbee

    Robbie Coltrane as “Fitz” on Cracker is one of the great characters of all time. i wish he was doing more things like that.

    i’m of the opinion that since we’ve already had acting portraits of jesus, ghandi, the buddha and many of the hindu pantheon, as well as zeus, apollo, venus and thor, odin and freya, everything and everyone (including mohammed) is fair game. no sacred cows!

  • Hank Graham

    Two anecdotes that I ponder on this question.

    First, consider David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” As ruthless a critic as George MacDonald Fraser wrote about it (in “The Hollywood History of the World,” one of the five best books about movies ever) that, “Peter O’Toole does him very well…” in a film that “…followed the main fact well.”

    Except that there’s the interesting note that when it came out, everyone who ever knew Lawrence said that they had NOT gotten him quite right. His brother was particularly aggrieved that Peter O’Toole, he said, was just too tall to be Lawrence.

    And to put a perspective on that, there is a lovely thing reported in a biography of “Chariots of Fire.” (It’s on the DVD in the extras.) The sister of one of the two runners portrayed in the film complained to the filmmakers at how her brother had been shown running.

    They had him pumping his arms and and throwing himself along the race-course and he was, she said, the absolute soul of grace when he was running.

    Then they show side-by-side footage of their actor and a newsreel of the actual guy running a race. It makes you admire the actor for how accurately he was impersonating that awkward stork of a man who threw himself forward on sheer will.

    I don’t think there are any characters that no one could or should show on screen.

  • Every time I try to think of some inimitable personage, it seems that someone has given it a go on the silver screen.

    Except Mohammed. Good call, bronxbee. Even The Message stopped short of actually depicting ol’ Moe. Hmm. The only person I can think of who’d be crazy enough to try it would be Lars von Trier. But what actor would do it, who expected to have a career or life thereafter?

  • I was reading about a possible John Belushi biopic yesterday; not sure something like that could be done well. Then again, I said the same about Andy Kaufman right up until I saw the very excellent Man on the Moon.

  • doa766

    no

  • No.

    Including Mohammed — who I’ve seen played in everything from South Park episodes to PBS specials.

  • rustypup

    Peggy Lee can be portrayed but I’m a bit concerned about Reese playing her. Does she have the emotional (and physical) heft for this? I’d throw it to kd lang but I’m unsure of her talent as a, um, thespian.

  • jakob1978

    First, consider David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” As ruthless a critic as George MacDonald Fraser wrote about it (in “The Hollywood History of the World,” one of the five best books about movies ever) that, “Peter O’Toole does him very well…” in a film that “…followed the main fact well.”

    Except that there’s the interesting note that when it came out, everyone who ever knew Lawrence said that they had NOT gotten him quite right. His brother was particularly aggrieved that Peter O’Toole, he said, was just too tall to be Lawrence.

    there’s a lovely story about George M Cohan, who after seeing Yankee Doodle Dandy said “It was a good movie. Who was it about?”

    and similar to Bridget Bardot, Fred Astaire refused permission for him to be protrayed onscreen, even going so far as stating in his will that he did not want his life portrayed onscreen, saying – “It is there because I have no particular desire to have my life misinterpreted, which it would be”

  • Boingo

    No. By now, I’d guess every movie ever made about a
    celeb or historical person could be picked apart by
    those close to them.

    Please make a movie about me. Any rendition would make
    me look better as a person, than I actually am/was. Please leave out the immature shit I did to Joann in the 8th grade (never was a Scott Pilgrim type).

  • Shouldn’t portray onscreen? No.

    Couldn’t portray onscreen? After Michael Jackson’s death, I thought that surely a biopic was inevitable, but then I couldn’t for the life of me think of anyone else who could convincingly play him onscreen. His moves, his voice, and his changing appearance are just so ingrained into our collective pop consciousness that we’d just be acutely aware that anyone playing him is not him. Of course we’re aware of this with any actor playing anyone, but I think I’d find it particularly hard to suspend my disbelief in the case of MJ.

    I think there was some made-for-TV movie about the Jacksons, but I didn’t see it and don’t know how successful that portrayal was. And perhaps a biopic could go the route of I’m Not There–which I also haven’t seen–and that could be successful; who knows.

  • Dan Coyle

    Honestly, the thing I keep coming back to here is that a) The idiot who made Fanboys is actually married and b) it’s to Jamie King. I guess that Baruchel/Bell romantic subplot was inspired by real life!

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