By Nick Maylor
Biopics are huge business these days. When done well, they will often appear with a notable presence during the awards seasons; with many actors and actresses taking home Oscar gold for their appearances in them. Several historical figures of note have yet to (to my satisfaction) be given their due treatment in the form of a serious, biopic. Here I will break down 10 suggestions I have for Hollywood in terms of the subjects of possible films, and the actors I think are best suited to take on the iconic personas. Fan casting is fun.
10. LEONARDO DA VINCI – VIGGO MORTENSEN
The quintessential renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci was a man of many talents, much like Oscar-nominee, Viggo Mortensen. Viggo is a painter like Da Vinci and being multi-lingual, he would be an ideal choice for someone to play the tormented inventor and master artist. Mortensen’s frequent collaborator David Cronenberg could be an ideal choice to direct. There’s more than enough interesting material from Da Vinci’s life to serve as the plot.
9. MICHELANGELO DI LODOVICO BUONARROTI SIMONI – JOAQUIN PHOENIX
Keeping with renaissance men, the man who painted the massive works that adorn the inside of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel would make for a fascinating story. Although revered as a painter, Michelangelo disliked the medium and always considered sculpting to be his real profession. There are some historians who believe he may have been on the autism spectrum and his social interactions were known for their complicated nature. Phoenix could crush this role. Imagining the scenes of him arguing with the Pope about how the Vatican’s chapel should be decorated.
8. GALILEO GALILEI – MARK RUFFALO
Once again, we look to renaissance men here. Galileo was famously Known for his work as astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician, Galileo has been called the “father of observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of the scientific method”, and even the “father of science”. His (at the time) controversial championing of heliocentrism and Copernicanism got him into some serious trouble with the Catholic Church (who weren’t completely on board with the idea that the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe). Tom McCarthy directed Ruffalo in Spotlight (2015), a film where Ruffalo’s character also had a beef with the Catholic Church. Being the reason I cast him here, I recommend McCarthy to direct.
7. SIR ISAAC NEWTON – JAMES MCAVOY
A man who changed the world forever, Isaac Newton has been seen by many as possessing one of (if not the) greatest minds in human history. In his venture to explain how gravity works, Newton straight-up invented a new type of math: calculus. McAvoy’s bottomless well of talent would make him an ideal candidate for the role and his portrayal of Charles Xavier in the X-Men films served as the motivation for my choosing him. I vote for Matthew Vaughan to direct.
6. IAN FLEMING – GEOFFREY RUSH
Geoffrey Rush played Peter Sellers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004) where he (sort of) portrayed James Bond/007. His striking resemblance to 007’s creator Ian Fleming struck me when researching this piece. Fleming was a man of comparable badassery as his most famous creation. Why not get Sam Mendes to have a crack at this one? Fleming was friends with Arthur Conan Doyle, Christopher Lee (whom he saw as Bond-esque) and J.R.R Tolkien. Imagine the possibilities.
5. CARL SAGAN – OSCAR ISAAC
The famous orator of the “Pale Blue Dot” speech and host of the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) was a fascinating and brilliant man. His legacy is still felt today by all who appreciate and love science. Hell, I would love to have Sagan’s successor and protege, Neil deGrasse Tyson narrate this one. The film would have to be a celebration of science just as Sagan’s life was. My choice to direct is Robert Zemeckis, the man who directed Contact (1997), which was itself based on a book by Sagan. Isaac would be perfect. Tell me I’m wrong.
4. MARK TWAIN – TOM HANKS
Names like Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens) and Tom Hanks scream America. The famed public speaker and the author clearly lived a fascinating life and who better to play him the actor NOBODY doesn’t like? Twain was an unapologetic firebrand and having the quintessential nice guy play him just makes sense. I nominate Clint Eastwood to direct.
3. CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS – ROGER ALLAM
The famed journalist and author Christopher Hitchen is probably remembered best for his wit, unapologetic honesty and fearlessness. Aside from the physical resemblance, Roger Allam has demonstrated that he is rich with the type of audacity, projection, and attitude that defined Hitchens. This one just seems too perfect. I can already see Allam recreating some of Hitchens’ most famous public television appearances; screaming “how dare you?” to anyone who claimed that Hitchens (and other atheists) cannot raise their children to know right from wrong. Tom Hooper gets my vote to direct. This one would be an actors dream. Allam would have to get gaunt and frail in order to portray Hitchens when he was dying of cancer. I’m sure he would be up to the task.
2. CONSTANTINE THE GREAT – JAVIER BARDEM
The man responsible for turning Christianity into the state religion of the Roman Empire, Constantine was a widely feared and respected leader, even if he was a tyrant. His organization of the First Council of Nicaea would be an amazing story to tell. Ever the pragmatist, Constantine knew that he could use Christianity to unite the Roman Empire under a single faith. Bardem was the only person I considered for the role. His stoicism and authoritative presence would be essential to playing the role. Moreover, we know from films like No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012) that this Spanish Oscar-winner has no trouble being intimidating or downright terrifying. I nominate Darren Aronofsky to direct.
1. GEORGE CARLIN – TOM HIDDLESTON
Of all the films on this list, there is none I wish to see more than the story of George Carlin, the greatest comedian who ever lived and father of the “Seven words you can never say on television”. Those seven words should be the first seven words of dialogue in this movie. Documenting Carlin’s beginnings on the old tonight show as a clean comedian who wore a suit and tie (very well-kempt) to his evolution into the bearded, vulgar hippie comic we all know and love would be a mesmerizing story to watch. His famous bit on profanity went all the way to the supreme court. Imagine Lenny (1974) meets The People vs. Larry Flint (1997). Hiddleston was tailor-made for the role. A gifted impressionist (like Carlin), he would no doubt inhabit the irreverent prophet. The only choice to direct? Martin Scorsese.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor