This week’s question is from reader Bankole Imoukhuede:
Who would you want to star in the story of your life thus far?
Maybe he’s just been on my mind a lot lately, but I’d like to go 100 percent the opposite of who I am in real life, and get comic actor extraordinaire Alan Ritchson to play me in the tale of my life’s unfolding. (Unraveling?) For those who don’t know him, you’ve seen him briefly in bigger fare like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or more recently on NBC’s reality series I Can Do That. (Or maybe you remember him on American Idol back in 2004 as the guy who basically sexed up Paula.) He’s a Greek god made flesh: blond hair, square jaw, totally ripped… everything I am not. But it wasn’t until I saw him in Blue Mountain State that I realized he was a comedy genius. He has the best earnest doofus reaction shots I’ve ever seen, and since “earnest doofus” is probably a valid description of me, I think that would be enough of a connection that he’d really nail it. Plus, with any luck, history would then remember me more in the form of the Adonis who played me than the frail, rapidly decaying body I actually possess.
As a fat guy with aspirations toward comedy, I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to finding amazing people to step up and fill my cinematic shoes. (Admittedly, a depressing number of them are dead at, like, age 45, but it’s my fantasy, right?) But while Chris Farley was an improvisational genius, and John Belushi’s wild-man charisma undeniable, I have to go with the greatest of the modern funny fats: John Candy. Capable of projecting an air of unassailable lovability, whether he’s being actively (and brilliantly) annoying in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, or dopily buffoonish, like in Stripes, Candy is exactly the guy I want rendering my various and sundry flaws hilariously charming for an instantly sympathetic audience. (Plus, it would give all the times I’ve bugged my friends with recreations of his beautifully earnest “Roy’s Food Repair” sketch from NBC’s little-known The New Show a nice, meta twist.)
After Dead Poets Society came out in 1989, I was repeatedly informed by the students at my own hoity-toity private school that I looked just like the guy who—spoiler alert!—kills himself in that movie, Robert Sean Leonard. (Usually, yes, in those words: “You look like that guy who killed himself in Dead Poets Society,” the “dork” closer to that sentence generally unsaid, but understood.) Leonard is seven years my senior, but the way he looked in Dead Poets Society is pretty much exactly how I looked in high school (i.e., lanky, pale, and sensitive), and his current IMDB picture isn’t that far off from me. I haven’t seen much of his more recent work, but Leonard’s a fine actor, and hey, he wouldn’t have to endure any onerous makeup routine to play me.
I don’t think there is an actor on Earth who would be able to capture my essence quite like Anthony Hopkins. We don’t look a thing alike, mostly because he’s a nearly 80-year-old man and I’m still 26. But if Hollywood can turn model Charlize Theron into the rough-around-the-edges serial killer Aileen Wuornos, I think it can help Hopkins transform, too. And when it comes down to it, I have a certain quiet and composed energy given to flights of manic electricity that I think Hopkins could really knock out of the park—as evidenced by the actor’s previous roles like Corky in Magic and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs. Really, the only hurdle he would need to clear is mastering my northern Wisconsin accent.
I can’t imagine a bigger or more flattering honor than being portrayed by Tilda Swinton. Her performances never fail to rivet me, from her deadpan crispness in Moonrise Kingdom to her artfully alienated cyborg(s) in Teknolust to her gender-fluid tour de force in Orlando. She and I are both pretty angular, although I only wish I had those cheekbones; if she would only suffer the indignity of wearing a bald cap and stooping to make herself a couple inches shorter, I think she’d immortalize me in a way I’m sure I never will.
I was so going to say Tilda Swinton as well, because I believe she can, and possibly would, play every living or dead human on Earth. But since that is taken I am going to instead go with James Franco. He’s just the kind of weirdo who would do something as perverse as make a movie based on one of my ragingly unpopular memoirs (The Big Rewind and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me, the rights of which are totally still available). He’s actually playing Stephen Elliott, a dude who grew up in the same group home as me, in an upcoming adaptation of Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries, so I like to think that he’s prolific and eccentric enough to make a point of playing every weird, self-destructive author who grew up in Chicago’s distinguished Campbell House group home. Also, he just got done playing Tommy Wiseau in the super-anticipated adaptation of Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, and me and Wiseau are pretty much the same person. And I’d love to travel with Franco to the Gathering Of The Juggalos as research for a dream adaptation of You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me. I think he’d fit in spectacularly well there, being handsome and famous and wildly successful, and I think he’d really get into the spirit of the thing. So Franco, if you are reading this, let’s make this happen!
Sure, there are actors who resemble me and could probably do a fine portrayal—Freaks And Geeks-era Martin Starr for my awkward youth; Jack White for my long-haired indie rock phase; John Oliver for my cynical adulthood. But the actor who I feel could really capture my essence is one of the Hollywood icons who looks least like me: Kermit The Frog. Maybe that’s because, apart from family, Kermit was one of my earliest role models. Like The Muppet Show’s oft-beleaguered showrunner, I find myself surrounding myself with creative people, from friends to coworkers to my wife and kids, and my people-pleasing tendencies mean that, like Kermit, I try and keep everyone around me happy. I try to be the calm center of whatever chaos I plunge into, but like Kermit, I’m not above the occasional freakout. And I do burst into song every so often, although I draw the line at eating flies. Still, I feel like my not-all-that-fascinating life is well within the frog’s range. I’m not sure I entirely live up to Kermit’s example, but I’d at least like for movie audiences across America to think I do.
True story: my best friend and I cast out an elaborate all-star version of our high school social circle when we were teenagers. In that magnum opus, I picked Quentin Tarantino to play me, because I was a verbally intemperate and not very good-looking movie buff. In my mellowed old age (which is to say, when I was in college), I amended it to Ben Stiller. I’m not as persnickety as the Stiller persona (I hope), but I feel like his subsequent teaming up with Noah Baumbach lends that decision some worth and sense in retrospect. Really, I leave it up to you, world: Who would better complete a four-dude buddy comedy with John Cusack, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Richards: Tarantino or Stiller? The answer, of course, is that there shouldn’t be a movie about me and my goony high school friends.
If I was casting strictly by looks, the easy choice would be Seth Rogen, whom people have giggled and jokingly teased me about since Knocked Up hit big. However, I’m gonna say fuck it and go crazy with Nicolas Cage. I truly respect him as an actor, with Raising Arizona, Vampire’s Kiss, and Leaving Las Vegas in my pantheon of all-time great performances. Apropos to my life, Cage can easily pull off the mania that was my 10 years of active alcoholism/drug abuse, with Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans and the aforementioned Vegas good reference points (I swear one night I saw iguanas while high on ketamine). In my current sobriety, I feel a restrained, bearded Joe-type Cage performance would adequately capture mid-30s, dour Fortune nicely.
When I was a kid, I would’ve said Peter Billingsley, whose “Messy Marvin” commercials were the bane of my existence well before he made his mark in A Christmas Story, but I think nowadays the better choice might be Robbie Rist. Yes, that’s right: the gentleman who made his mark—and earned his first taste of infamy—as Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. He’s got the glasses, he’s got the facial hair, and although he’s a bit shorter than I am, the resemblance remains sufficiently profound enough that I’d be comfortable having him step into my shoes. Plus, he’s been a professional musician for ages now, so he could handle the score, too.
The second to last thing the world needs is another biopic, especially one about me specifically, but I’d trust New Queer pioneer and biopic master Todd Haynes to make something interesting out of my life thus far. As I see it, it’s either a punishing slow cinema behemoth or a veteran coming-of-age dramedy that keeps getting renewed by a loving or careless network, but that’s his problem. As for the star, I’d hope for a rainbow approach like I’m Not There, but Rooney Mara would be a natural fit. An exceptionally interior performer, working from the inside out, she has something of slow cinema and coming-of-age dramedy in her. And she’s in the ballpark physically, which is to say short and unable to grow facial hair. Given her history of playing women who refuse to be subordinated any longer, I’d be thrilled to see her kick ass in my name.