8 New Biopics Tell the Stories of These Artists’ Lives
A great biopic has the potential to be an entertaining history lesson encapsulating the subject’s personal life as well as the culture, time, and place in which they existed. A bad biopic has the potential to overly sensationalize or glamorize the subject so that the people who learn about the subject through the film have a massively inaccurate perception of who this person was and what they did. When biopics are released, they always generate buzz about whether the filmmaker has unveiled anything new about the subject’s life, whether the lead actor did a good job embodying the subject, and whether people already familiar with the subject approve of the film’s interpretation.
Artists, musicians, actors, and filmmakers have long held our public fascination and their lives are frequently rife with the kind of stories that make good, entertaining filmmaking. There’s a slew of films either in the works right now or coming out soon about artists who haven’t previously had the Hollywood treatment, and both critics and fans are eager to see how these interpretations hold up. Here is a list of eight biopics about artists that have been recently released or are coming soon.
Jimi Hendrix, All Is By My Side
The first biopic ever made about the legendary guitarist premiered in the U.S. at the South by Southwest music festival and stars Outkast MC André 3000 as Hendrix. André 3000 said that he watched and listened to hours of interview footage of Hendrix to nail his mannerisms. The physical resemblance is uncanny and reviewers have given the movie positive marks even though the filmmakers couldn’t obtain the rights to use any of Hendrix’s original music. They coped with this obstacle by using the covers of some of the same material Hendrix frequently played during the period the film is set in.
The movie focuses on a period of a few years in which Hendrix makes the decision to move to London, influenced by girlfriend Linda Keith. He builds his reputation playing in London and the movie ends just before he heads back to the U.S. for a now-legendary performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival that made him a star. Choosing to focus in on a short time period (a similar technique was used by Steven Spielberg with Lincoln) stops the filmmakers from attempting to shove too much information into too short a time span.
James Brown, Get on Up
Get on Up will chronicle James Brown’s rise from poverty in Augusta, Georgia to become one of the most influential musicians of all time. The movie counts Mick Jagger, who has been trying to get a biopic about Brown off the ground for several years, as one of its producers. The movie stars little-known actor Chadwick Boseman, as well as Viola Davis, who will play Brown’s mother who abandoned him as a child, and Octavia Spencer, Brown’s aunt who raised him in a brothel. The movie promises “what you have heard is only the beginning,” suggesting that some new or maybe little known information about Brown’s life will be revealed. The film will explore Brown’s childhood as well as his difficulties with the law, his infamously strict rules on his band, and his family drama.
Rolling Stone talked to Mick Jagger on the set of the film, and the Rolling Stones frontman praised Boseman’s dedication to the role. “It’s a really hard role to do,” Jagger said. “It would’ve been safer to take someone from Broadway who had a lot of dancing and singing background. Chad would be the first to tell you, he wasn’t a dancer. But after he’d worked for six weeks on it, he immeasurably had become the character.” The movie is set to come out late this summer.
David Foster Wallace, The End of the Tour
How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel will have to prove his dramatic acting skills in his upcoming role as the tortured and revered writer David Foster Wallace in the film The End of the Tour. Wallace is most famous for his hugely influential novel Infinite Jest as well as his essays and short stories, including his struggles with depression that led to his suicide in 2008.
The movie will focus on a small chunk of Wallace’s life. Reporter David Lipsky, who will be played by Jesse Eisenberg, followed Wallace on a book tour promoting Infinite Jest at a time when Wallace began to realize the effect his work would have in the literary world. Those experiences were chronicled for several publications and eventually made into the book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. Wallace fans seem to be divided on whether Segel was a good choice to play the writer. Although the photos that have popped up on Instagram show a passable physical resemblance, it remains to be seen if Segel has the acting chops for the role.
Busby Berkeley, untitled
Ryan Gosling is set to star in and possibly a direct an upcoming biopic about Hollywood Golden Era filmmaker and choreographer Busby Berkeley, who is famous for making musicals in the 1930s that helped take peoples’ minds off their troubles during the Great Depression. Warner Bros. has purchased the rights to the Berkeley biography by Jeffrey Spivak, Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter. The Internet is already buzzing with rumors about and hopes for the movie, as it tends to do whenever anything involving Ryan Gosling happens.
Berkeley’s life wasn’t all dancing and musicals, though, as the man underwent three different trails for vehicular manslaughter related to crashes likely caused by his own drunkenness. He was also married six times. In addition to starring in and directing the film, The Hollywood Reporter said that Gosling will produce alongside previous collaborator Marc Platt. The project is still in its very early stages, so as of yet there’s no writer attached and no tentative date for when it will land in theaters.
Elton John, Rocketman
Tom Hardy, who played the villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, is set to star as the flamboyant rock star in an upcoming biopic directed by Michael Gracey. According to a report from Deadline, FilmDistrict paid $10 million for the rights to the story of John’s life, ranging from his childhood as a musical prodigy through his rise to stardom and songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. John’s original music will be used in the film, which is set to begin shooting in the fall.
Hardy has reportedly been diving into the role, haven taken to wearing Elton John’s clothing and spending time with the musician. John hasn’t commented on the film or the casting of Hardy, although he did say to Rolling Stone in 2012 that he’d love to see Justin Timberlake — who has impersonated John various times — play him in a feature film.
Nina Simone, Nina
This much-anticipated biopic about soul legend and activist Nina Simone has generated its fair share of controversy for a movie that hasn’t even been released yet. Many people objected to the casting of actress Zoe Saldana as Simone because Saldana has to wear a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup in order to look like the singer, something critics have said is damaging as it’s highly difficult for dark-skinned actresses to gain roles in movies. Simone was famous for embracing her African heritage and highlighting that heritage in her appearance, and critics say that the Puerto Rican and Dominican Saldana just isn’t African looking enough to play the part. A petition was even placed on Change.org calling for an actress who looks more like Simone to replace Saldana, but the actress and director Cynthia Mort have defended the film and the casting of Saldana in the starring role. There’s no release date for the film as of yet, but it’s due out sometime in 2014.
Freddie Mercury, untitled
There’s been a biopic about the charismatic lead singer of Queen in the works for a while, but the film has been plagued by personnel changes. At first, Sacha Baron Cohen was signed on to play Mercury, but he dropped out of the project last summer according to Rolling Stone, as Mercury’s surviving band mates said they believed Cohen’s high profile name would draw attention away from Mercury’s story. Now, actor Ben Wishaw is signed on to play the singer, but director Dexter Fletcher has decided to drop out of the project over “creative differences” and clashes with Wishaw and producer Graham King over changes to the screenplay, Variety reports.
Queen guitarist Brian May has told Rolling Stone that the film “depicts Freddie in a very lifelike way, but in the context of Queen, which was a kind of family. So it’s about what happens in families, in a sense, and I think people will find it very touching.” The movie will follow Mercury’s life through Queen’s headlining performance at LiveAid in 1985. Shooting for the film is scheduled to start this summer.
Miles Davis, Kill the Trumpet Player
Don Cheadle directs and stars in this biopic about legendary jazz trumpet player and composer Miles Davis. Zoe Saldana also appears in this one as Davis’ former wife. Ewan McGregor will play the Rolling Stone reporter who helped Davis try and win back his estranged ex-wife during a hiatus the trumpet player took from music between 1975 and 1979. The film, which Cheadle has said he hopes can “kill the biopic,” will not stick to the traditions of the genre and will remain focused on the 1975 to 1979 period.
“This film won’t try to give a broad overview of Davis’ life and give short shrift to this man’s story,” Cheadle said at the American Film Market, per The Hollywood Reporter. “For us as creative people, the time of his life that was most interesting was the five years when he wasn’t playing, when he was silent. What was going on in his mind? And how did he come out of it and return to music?” Davis collaborator Herbie Hancock will help advise the filmmakers and the movie has the support of the Davis family. Kill the Trumpet Player is set to begin production in June and no release date has been determined as of yet.
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