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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lee Escobedo

Ben Whishaw as Nick Cave? Score some leftfield music biopic ideas here

An interventionist casting director … Whishaw and Cave.
An interventionist casting director … Whishaw and Cave. Composite: Suki Dhanda, NurPhoto SRL/Alamy

Unlike the wave of milquetoast biopics released over the years on Elvis, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and others, Maestro is a welcome passion project by an actor/director willing to experiment with form and structure. Showing composer Leonard Bernstein as a magnetic but self-absorbed asshole with a sheepish grin and extroverted bisexuality, Maestro’s complex approach brings out a genius’s relatability and messy everydayness in what could otherwise have been stuffy subject matter.

In addition, it leaves us hungry for more character studies of musicians paired with actors who give their all. In Maestro, Cooper not only gives us his best-yet performance but reaches another level as an actor, writer and director. Inspired, here we suggest five other musicians who deserve to have their stories told.

Eartha Kitt

No average entertainer … Earth Kitt in the 1970s.
No average entertainer … Earth Kitt in the 1970s. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Eartha Kitt wasn’t your average singer-actor. She was a purring, powerhouse vocalist who appeared in the musical Carib Song and slithered into the charts with hits like C’est Si Bon and Santa Baby. And then there was her amazing turn as Catwoman on the 1967 TV show Batman, which redefined the feline fatale for a generation. Orson Welles called her the “most exciting woman in the world”. She was a chameleon, changing effortlessly from Broadway vamp to sultry songbird to Batman’s coolest nemesis, and a black icon who worked and thrived in an age where few of her background were able to.

Suggested star: Zendaya. Suggested director: Barry Jenkins

Saul Williams

Profoundly influential … Saul Williams.
Profoundly influential … Saul Williams. Photograph: David Wolff/Patrick/Redferns

Saul Williams is one of the most profound poets and alt-rappers of the 21st century and was an early innovator of avant-garde rap infiltrating mainstream hip-hop. Williams tackles taboos, issues and contradictions within the music industry and mainstream culture. A biopic could be centred on Williams’s 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, a precursor to the melding of punk, noise and hip-hop of Kodak Black and Lil Uzi Vert.The modern hip-hop sound and ethos owe much of their malleability to Williams’s risk-taking choices in the mid-2000s. Queer, outspoken on social issues, and refusing to fit into the hip-hop box all make Williams a perfect artist to celebrate.

Suggested star: LaKeith Stanfield. Suggested director: Boots Riley

Nick Cave

The role Ben Whishaw has been waiting for … Nick Cave in 1981.
The role Ben Whishaw has been waiting for … Nick Cave in 1981. Photograph: David Corio/Redferns

Cave’s wispy slink of a build, dapper three-piece suits and exploding tussle of hair, distil the punk spirit of the singer-songwriter’s career, from the early days in post-punk band the Birthday Party to his current work as a film composer (with Warren Ellis) for titles such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road, and Hell or High Water.

Suggested star: Ben Whishaw. Suggested director: Anton Corbijn


The acme of 90s cool … Aaliyah.
The acme of 90s cool … Aaliyah. Photograph: Jim Cooper/AP

There have been legacy cementing 90s-era biopics of hip-hop superstars, including Notorious BIG and NWA, but Aaliyah deserves to have her story told on the big screen. Towards the end of her short life (she died in 2001 in a plane crash, aged 22), she transitioned into acting, with starring roles in Queen of the Damned and Romeo Must Die. A biopic could showcase Aaliyah’s strength and idealism, as well as her disturbing marriage to the now-infamous R Kelly at only 15 years old

Suggested star: Teyana Taylor. Suggested director: Julia Ducournau

Philip Glass

Avant-garde hero … Philip Glass in 2001.
Avant-garde hero … Philip Glass in 2001. Photograph: Leon Morris/Redferns

Now that Cooper has dusted off orchestral music as a viable art form for adaptation, perhaps a move even further to the fringes would work. A central figure in the NYC avant-garde music scene of the 70s and 80s, mingling with painters, conceptual artists and writers, Glass is far from as popular or well-known as Bernstein, but he has been one of the most influential voices of composition in the US over the past 50 years. He and Bernstein exist on opposite ends of the classical spectrum: where Bernstein’s scores are lively and structured for choreographed dance, Glass’s work is best experienced with eyes closed and minds open.For Glass, it is as much about what isn’t performed as what is, as he famously uses his art to play with notions of time, repetition and performance in works such as his opera Einstein on the Beach and in film scores such as The Hours and Koyaanisqatsi.

Suggested star: Adrien Brody. Suggested director: Julian Schnabel

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