Biopics are a weird thing. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln gets its wide release today amidst a slew of other biopics, including Liz & Dick, Hitchcock (along with the other Hitchcock), and Hyde Park on Hudson. Biopics go with end-of-the-year Oscar season like peanut butter goes with other sandwich ingredients! And while Spielberg’s flick nailed the casting for every role, some other biopics get kind of weird with the casting. For every on-the-nose match, there are a bunch of really confusing ones, leaving us wondering what exactly the casting directors in question were thinking.
Notably, next month Bill Murray will be playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, a film that focuses on this one time when FDR hosted a visit from King George IV of England (the same guy from The King’s Speech… just not played by Colin Firth this time). The film also chronicles the affair FDR had with his distant cousin that was a different distant cousin besides Eleanor Roosevelt. An interesting casting choice is that Eleanor Roosevelt will be Olivia Williams, who is no stranger to playing a lady in a love triangle with Bill Murray. I don’t remember who’s playing FDR’s lover/cousin but maybe it’s Jason Schwartzmann! Because Rushmore.
But to get to the real point: Is it strange that Bill Murray is playing FDR? Sure, he has taken on serious roles in the past decade, and this one looks like a pretty light take on FDR’s story, but will it be weird to have a Ghostbuster, Toon Squad member, and kickball party crasher as president? Only as weird as you make of it.
Earlier this month Lindsay Lohan took a break from concerning the entire nation to play Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime original movie, and people thought it was pretty okay. Jamie Foxx excelled as Ray Charles in 2004, won an Oscar for it, and then since then has played that hit man in Horrible Bosses and made Blame It On the Alcohol into a song. Katie Homes played Jackie Kennedy on TV last year. Jon Voight played Pope JP2 and got an Emmy once and somehow never stopped being Angelina Jolie’s dad! Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan in a movie, guys. Guys!
Biopic casting gets weird as you tangle actors’ experiences and personalities with those of the characters they are playing. But they are characters–this is how acting works. People play other people that are not entirely like themselves. The fact that the characters are part of history is merely incidental.
In the next couple years, Ashton Kutcher will play Steve Jobs, Daniel Radcliffe will play Allen Ginsberg (previously played by serious actor and NYU alum James Franco and also by bald comedian David Cross), Sacha Baron Cohen will play Freddie Mercury, and John Cusack will become Rush Limbaugh. If you think biopic castings are weird, get used to it, because they’re just gonna keep being that way.