A friend of mine works in the development of motion pictures, and a critical component of his work is getting actors attached to projects. That way, when he goes into a meeting with potential investors, he can make a much more potent case if he has, say, Ben Kingsley or Meryl Streep committed to play a key role in a prospective film.
It got me thinking that if I were to cast a series of biopics about the lives of composers, which actors might I seek? Here’s a shortlist, based on physical resemblances and acting chops.
Hector Berlioz James Cromwell
Hardworking and versatile, James Cromwell seems a great pick to play the French composer who wrote Symphonie Fantastique.
Claude Debussy Ricky Gervais
Another French composer, Claude Debussy, bears a resemblance to Ricky Gervais. As his French name suggests, Gervais has French ancestry (which could be about 400 years removed via his Canadian-born father), but perhaps there is some shared genetic history.
Francis Poulenc John Turturro
Known for his fine work in films by Joel and Ethan Coen, Turturro seems a fine casting choice in a film about the curious life of Francis Poulenc. Poulenc was originally set for a career in business, but his passion for music led him to a largely self-taught musical vocation. And speaking of passion, Turturro worked on a 2010 film called Passione, about the music of Naples, Italy.
Ludwig van Beethoven Trevor Peacock
Perhaps you know-know-know Trevor Peacock from his role as the dithering Jim Trott in the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley. Among his many credits, Peacock also appeared in the Dustin Hoffman-directed Quartet, a film set in a residence for retired musicians. And it’s notable that Peacock himself is no slouch as a composer, having written a number of songs, including the proto-twee-pop hit, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, made popular by Herman’s Hermits.
Maurice Ravel John Slattery
Slattery, of Mad Men and West Wing renown, seems a strong choice to play the Impressionist French composer who took America by storm during a tour of the U.S. in the 1920s (which, according to local tradition, included a train change at St. Paul’s Union Depot).
Richard Strauss Richard Dreyfuss
In addition to his work as a composer, Richard Strauss was also a conductor, and we’ve seen Richard Dreyfuss handle that role with aplomb in the 1995 paean to music teachers, Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Guiseppe Verdi Scott Wilson
A fine choice to play operatic storyteller Verdi is Scott Wilson, known widely for his work in the role of Herschel, the Obi Wan of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Ottorino Respighi John Malkovich
Based on the photo above, Malkovich may already be auditioning for a role as Respighi. Among many interesting facets of Respighi’s life is his friendship with the scientist Enrico Fermi, who asked Respighi to explain music to him in terms of physics. Respighi was unsuccessful, but certainly there’s a well of riveting dialogue there that’s waiting to be tapped. And who would play Fermi? I’m thinking Kevin Spacey. Cast Malkovich as Respighi and Spacey as Fermi and watch the sparks fly. Maybe this one is a theater production.
Jacques Offenbach Michael Emerson
After some time in hair and makeup, Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest) would likely savor the role of the prolific composer Jacques Offenbach, who also worked as a cellist and conductor. Coincidentally, Offenbach is the name of a residential street in greater Paris, and Emerson is the name of a residential street in Minneapolis, so there’s potential for future trivia questions, too.
What other casting choices can you think of? Share your ideas in the comments below.