Casting Today’s Stars as Yesterday’s Stars

I come to you a humbled man. In my most recent article (The Greatest Movie Stars of All Time?), I presumed to identify the ten greatest movie stars. To say the least, I received more than a little negative feedback. In fact, some people were thoughtlessly snippy about it. Heck… I was just trying to have some fun with the subject. I guess I should have included some of the women. Oh well…

This time I won’t be so provocative. Today, for speculative biopics, I’m wondering which modern movie star could reasonably play a famous star of the past. As is my habit, we’ll look at ten possibilities…


(1) Nicolas Cage as James Stewart

A good friend suggested Nicolas Cage as David Carradine. I’m sure that would work but I’m not sure David Carradine was popular enough to warrant a bio-pic. I think Nic Cage would be absolutely perfect as Jimmy Stewart. Like Stewart, Cage’s approach to dialog is slow and deliberate. Also, his comedy timing is just as subtle. And of course, just like Stewart, Cage is an outstanding dramatic actor. Think about it… I can definitely see Nic Cage as George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, can’t you? Now… In order to satisfy divorce and tax debts, Cage recently made more than a few cinematic turkeys. Right now, an “A” picture would be just what the doctor ordered. Nicolas Cage is Jimmy Stewart reborn!


(2) Cate Blanchett as Bette Davis/Katharine Hepburn

Even though Cate Blanchett already won an Oscar for the role of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, the biopic of Howard Hughes that stars Leonardo DiCaprio, I think she should be given a second chance in a film specifically about Ms. Hepburn. But more than that, she should also do a biopic about Bette Davis. We know that Ms. Blanchett has a decidedly impressive ability to affect any accent. And since she has already re-created Ms. Hepburn’s distinctive cadence, is there any doubt that she could also imitate Bette Davis? Moreover, she’s an amazing actress who seems to be able to entrance a viewer through little more than a glance (“…she’s got Bette Davis’ eyes…”). Indeed, in respective films, she and Ms. Davis both perfectly portrayed the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. I can also readily picture her in The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib. In any case, I think it’s about time someone finally made respective films about Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, the two greatest female movie stars who ever lived. And now that we have the incomparable Cate Blanchett, there’s no time like the present.


(3) Gerard Butler as Clark Gable

Give him a mustache and an American accent and Scotsman Gerard Butler instantly becomes Clark Gable! He has the looks. He has the mannerisms. He has that glint in his eye. And we already know he can do an American accent. We’ve heard him do it in more than a few films. No doubt, he could learn to sound like Clark Gable with a wink and a smile. Most of all, he demonstrates Gable’s macho confidence to an absolute “T.” Ripped and ready, the Spartan Mr. Butler could fill the shoes of Clark Gable’s fictional Mr. Butler quite nicely. It might be very entertaining to watch him re-create scenes from Gone With The Wind.


(4) Tom Hanks as Spencer Tracy

Tom Hanks’ impersonation of Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks was plainly one dimensional. To my mind, it was an opportunity lost. Unfortunately, the film itself wasn’t really about Disney per se’. That was certainly a shame. Therefore, Tom Hanks should be allowed to portray a full fledged character in a bio-pic about Spencer Tracy. To put it simply, the greatest actor of Hollywood past should be played by the greatest actor of Hollywood present. Much like Tracy, Hanks has portrayed just about every type of character under the Sun. And he has done so brilliantly. Could Tom Hanks pull it off? Does Bugs Bunny eat carrots?


(5) Jon Hamm as John Wayne

At six feet two inches, Jon Hamm is 2 inches shorter than John Wayne. But give him a Stetson hat, a tall horse, a six shooter, and shoe lifts, and he’s good to go as The Duke! Now, I realize that some people won’t agree with this casting. As they say, John Wayne was larger than life. But that’s the problem. Truth be told, The Duke was very definitely one of a kind. Essentially, absolutely no one could capture his commanding presence. Therefore, you might think Jon Hamm (or anyone else) would be a Mad Man to try. But I think he may have the looks and acting ability to make a decent go of it. In any case, it sure would be interesting to see if he could pull it off.


(6) Jim Carrey as Jerry Lewis

Jim Carrey is an obvious clone of Jerry Lewis. It’s uncanny how they can both be identically annoying. At the same time, they can also be identically funny. To say the least, Carrey has all the Lewis quirks, ticks, and mannerisms. More than that, just like Jerry’s solo film career, it only took Carrey ten years or so to run out of steam. But then of course, it didn’t help when he took unnecessary pot shots at the late Charlton Heston. Most people don’t much care for blatant nastiness. But he might be able to redeem himself if someone cast him in a biopic of Jerry Lewis.


(7) Leonardo DiCaprio as James Cagney

Leonardo DiCaprio as James Cagney is either incredibly obvious or incredibly outrageous. Either way, it would make a very interesting film. It’s not just the fact that both men aren’t very tall. I think DiCaprio is the right choice because he is every bit as macho, feisty, and compelling on screen as Jimmy Cagney. Moreover, just like Cagney, he’s an outstanding actor. I just don’t know if he can dance like the Yankee Doodle Dandy. Oh well… It sure would be interesting to find out.


(8) Matthew McConaughey as Humphrey Bogart

If you have ever seen The Lincoln Lawyer you might understand why I see Matthew McConaughey as Humphrey Bogart. I know it’s the most unlikely choice so far, but hear me out. As movie stars go, Humphrey Bogart was certainly the most under-rated actor of his day. Before his recent Oscar win, this was also clearly true of McConaughey. And even though he doesn’t necessarily resemble Bogart, this shouldn’t be a problem. The right attitude, body language, and tone of voice is all that is needed. Moreover, since McConaughey has already proven himself as an actor, I don’t doubt for a second that he could pull it off. He just has to keep in mind the fact that Bogart didn’t have a Southern accent.


(9) Henry Cavill as Errol Flynn

If you place a thin mustache on Henry Cavill, fit him for a pair of green leotards, and hand him a sword, you will have Errol Flynn alive and kickin’! It’s true that Henry may be a bit of a “pretty boy,” but that’s O. K. So was Errol Flynn. And Henry’s British accent wouldn’t be a problem. Most people couldn’t tell that Flynn was actually Australian. Now… Since Henry Cavill is a relative newcomer to movie stardom, he has not yet proven himself as a dramatic actor. The life story of Errol Flynn would certainly be a superior way for him to try. In any case, I’ve always wanted to see a biopic of Errol Flynn and to my mind, Henry Cavill is the perfect choice.


(10) Hugh Jackman as Sean Connery

As a die hard James Bond fan I have long thought that Hugh Jackman would have made a great Agent 007. Failing that (and the fact that I have no complaints about Daniel Craig), there’s only one alternative for Jackman in that regard… He simply MUST play Sean Connery in a movie about cinema’s first James Bond. It’s not just the fact that he looks like Connery. Since Connery began his stage career as a singer and dancer, and Jackman is an extremely accomplished star of stage musicals, the casting would be perfect. And of course, both are very masculine actors who are long time veterans of action movies. So let’s not “X” him out of this casting. C’mon… let’s face it…when a producer finally decides to make a movie about the great Sean Connery…who else but Hugh Jackman?

Let me hear it. Do you like my choices? Or can you come up with better casting? How about casting ideas of your own for movie stars I didn’t mention? Let’s keep this going, O. K.? Who knows… Some Hollywood producer may read this column and become inspired. So go ahead… Let’s give the Hollywood power brokers something to think about, shall we?

Let’s see… Ed Norton as Buster Keaton…. Sandra Bullock as Carole Lombard… Ben Affleck as John Garfield…?

READY FOR PART TWO? Click here to see what other modern-day stars Blair picks to play Hollywood’s greats!

Blair Kramer is a widely published writer for various publications, including “Velocity: Chicago,” “A Guide to Art in Chicago,” “Comic Book Collector Magazine,” “American Metal Magazine,” and the “Jewish American Historical Society.” He also dabbles in screenplays and comic books. There are only two things in his life that he loves more than good movies. They are his wife and family.