By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.
The news in the world of actors-portraying-musicians this week was the debacle of Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson on the show “Urban Myths.” It took a preview of less than a minute to incite the anger of Jackson’s daughter Paris, among many others. The backlash from casting a white actor to comically play Jackson was loud enough to cause the show’s producers to cancel the broadcast of the episode.
It is often the more befuddling performances that make news, but there is no shortage of quality portrayals of musicians in television shows and movies.
On the most recent episode of In the Record Store, featuring Forest and the Evergreens, saxophonist Terrance Charles Farmer discussed his cameo as John Coltrane in the Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead,” which featured Don Cheadle as Davis.
“Actually, I’m not allowed to say it was John Coltrane,” Farmer said in the podcast. “I’m doing an ‘artist’s portrayal’ of John Coltrane.”
From sketch comedy to art films to blockbusters, there have been some fantastic portrayals of musicians by actors. Here are three of my favorites.
Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan: “I’m Not There” took an interesting approach to the biopic genre, casting six different actors to depict six different aberrations of Bob Dylan. Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Richard Gere have the highest profiles of the six, but it is Cate Blanchett’s performance that is the most shocking and rewarding.
Blanchett is the only woman to play Dylan (or, as they do not use the name of Dylan for the various characters, Jude Quinn). She finds the artist at his most controversial and arguably best, after having famously gone electric and alienated folk fans. She pulls off a genderless performance and accurate portrayal of Dylan, especially when she echoes his contentions with the press.
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles: “Ray” was a huge, Oscar-winning movie, a fascinating character study as well as a dive into the mechanisms of one of the most famous musicians of the twentieth century.
Charles’ story is long and emotional, and an actor who had not mastered his body language and voice would have made for an unwatchable movie. Fortunately, Foxx did just that. He was rewarded with multiple best actor awards for doing so, and was able to parlay his performance into other avenues — Foxx sang part of Charles’ “I Got a Woman” on Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”
“Mess Around” was one of Charles’ first hits, and Foxx’s rendition in the film is nearly indistinguishable from the original.
Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman as The Beatles: “Walk Hard” incorporated many aspects of rock history in the story of Dewey Cox, including the lure of transcendental meditation for many ‘60s musicians.
The most famous band to fall under this spell was — of course — The Beatles, who sojourned to India to study with meditation guru The Maharishi. In the “Walk Hard” universe, Cox and his band are also present to witness the “rift happening between The Beatles” as he said.
Jack Black’s Paul McCartney and Paul Rudd’s John Lennon are hilariously exaggerated, while Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman are basically how I imagine George Harrison and Ringo Starr actually behaving.