Badgley as Buckley: Can He Pull It Off?
Upon reading the announcement that Penn Badgley is to play Jeff Buckley in Greetings from Tim Buckley, it occurred to me how amazing the the biopic is as a genre, especially when the film is about a musician. The biopic in general can often appeal to a larger audience than most others because it makes history accessible to everyone — a good way to learn without ever picking up a book. And those with prior knowledge about the story line delight in watching the narrative brought to life. However, when I see a biopic, whether or not I am familiar with the characters the actors are embodying, I find that the more the actor resembles the historical character, the better and more enjoyable the film.
After an intense examination of Buckley’s face, it’s safe to say that Badgely has the potential to achieve that uncanny resemblance with a touch of make-up. The two men already have very similar oval faces and that dreamy gaze thing going on. However, playing a historical character, even with the physical resemblance, can be one of the toughest jobs in an actor’s career, which is why there is a lot of skepticism surrounding casting Badgley as Buckley. Can he do what other great actors have done?
There are many actors who have successfully blown away audiences in a biopic, but in my lifetime, the two most memorable actors have been Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. When both Foxx and Cotillard were cast in their respective roles, there was also skepticism about the outcome of their performances. Foxx was criticized for having the reputation as a comedian because the story of Ray was dramatic, while the producers of La Vie en Rose were concerned that casting Marion Cotillard would hurt box office totals due to American audience's lack of familiarity with the French actress.
Yet, I am firm in my belief that their uncanny resemblances are what drove these two actors to a performance that received nearly unanimous praise. It is no mistake that both actors took home Academy Awards for their roles in their respective years. Though they did have a musical advantage (Foxx was a pianist and singer, Cotillard could sing), knowing that they looked exactly like the character they were portraying made me feel like I was watching beautified and edited footage of their lives. Of course there was make-up involved in perfecting their appearances, but there is no denying what lies underneath the powders and creams.
According to an interview with Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog, Badgley has already begun taking guitar and voice lessons for his role as Jeff Buckley, which “has influenced and inspired him to change his own music.” I don't know much about Badgley's music, but after mastering the guitar and growing out his hair, he might soon be singing "Hallelujah" on the road to Oscardom.
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I'm really curious to see what Penn Badgley is going to do with this role. He could be either really awful or just right.
But I also think that the performances you mentioned above weren't just talked about because of the actors' resemblances to their respective characters. Yes Cotillard was able to prove her singing chops as Edith Piaf, but she also proved to be a great actress in her own right. Likewise, Jaoquin Phoenx as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line was an incredible performance that he completely made his own, and I don't think anybody else could have played that role. So yes, looks help. But I still think it's all about the performance. There have definitely been actors in similar roles who have failed miserably.
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