Flavorwire’s own film editor, Jason Bailey, recently wrote of the biopic that, at this point “even the most casual viewer can recognize the pitfalls of the form, in which the reduction of an entire life to a single short-form narrative results in clumsy expositional dialogue, one-dimensional characters, comically obvious historical markers, and tediously unimaginative soundtrack cues.” It’s hard to refute this concise rundown of all the trite ways biopics venerate, dramatize, and summarize the messy lives of those who inspire and/or incense us. So any news that yet another such life will be condensed into a two-hour sob-fest in which a famous actor bravely sports a prosthetic something-or-other brings with it both excitement and dread. Which is exactly what you may have felt this week, if you stumbled upon news that an Alexander McQueen biopic is in the works.
While this could potentially be the worst way to revisit such an iconoclastic figure — whose work itself challenged tepid trends in fashion — the director behind the project suggests we may have reason to be a little less cynical in our anticipation of… whatever this may be. Andrew Haigh, writer/director of the incredible 45 Years, Weekend, and creator of the less-great-but-nonetheless-worth-mentioning Looking, is going to be at the helm of the biopic, with filming potentially beginning at the close of 2016.
Haigh has become known for his intentionally banal naturalism and his interest in the what the minutiae of his characters’ lives say about them — as opposed to what pivotal events reveal. This could be a refreshing turn for the otherwise sensational or hagiographic propensities of the biopic. Of course, Alexander McQueen’s own vision certainly didn’t exist within the realm of realism — he often morphed or obfuscated parts of the human form to create both breathtaking and disturbing designs that pushed the boundaries of fashion’s subservience to the human form, suggesting, rather, that the two could meld into something entirely new.
Since nothing is known yet about who’ll be playing McQueen — or anyone else in his life — we’ve put together a list that dream casts this biopic. We’ve given most people in McQueen’s life two potential actors, one for each way this biopic could go. You’ll see both the more straightforward selections (ones that’d be excellent, but would fit into any old biopic) and the I’m Not There-style selections, which are more about essence than physical, age, racial or gender likeness, and which might actually be more appropriate for McQueen’s reality-distorting work.
Typical biopic choice: Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy not only resembles Alexander McQueen, he possesses — despite often being cast as a goliath villain — a gleam of sweetness and a magnetic impenetrability. (There is also, of course, that flair for demonism.) Because he’s often cast as the strongman, it’d be great to see him play a character who doesn’t change the world with his fists, who’s more caught up in, say, how the darker aspects of humanity might find their way onto a dress than how they might be used to bury a Leonardo DiCaprio.
Alternative biopic choice: Russell Tovey
Russell Tovey has — as an out gay celebrity — said some majorly ill-considered stuff about masculinity that may have turned people off to him. But he is an undeniably excellent film and theater actor who’s already worked with Andrew Haigh on Looking, bringing charisma to a character who might have otherwise been purely unlikeable. He also happens to look more like Alexander McQueen than any other working actor I can think of. His perpetual baby face would also make it quite easy for him to play McQueen from late adolescence until his suicide at age 40, if that’s the kind of biopic this will be.
Even more alternative biopic choice: Young John Malkovich
Time-travelling and filming a young John Malkovich, whose soft-spokenness and pervasive air of intelligence and the potential cruelty that can accompany it, would perhaps be the most perfect fit of all.
Typical biopic choice: Nicholas Hoult
Though filmmaker George Forsyth and McQueen were only married for a year (during which McQueen swept Forsyth into the fashion world), they maintained an intense friendship following McQueen’s breaking it off. Knowing Andrew Haigh’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent a lot of time on the brief, drug-fueled marriage between Forsyth (who died months after McQueen, from a seeming painkiller overdose) and the designer. Nicolas Hoult has a perfect, outsider-y vibe that could work in the role of someone who considers himself a fascinated, enamored, and somewhat worried observer.
Alternative biopic choice: Tom Hardy (Again!)
But, really, imagine this. Let’s scramble this shit. What if Tom Hardy played the supporting character — to the perhaps more age/build-versatile Nicholas Hoult’s McQueen? Either way, Nicholas Hoult should be in this thing. Because Nicholas Hoult should be in everything. As should Tom Hardy. Working with these mandates — that both of them are in every film from here on out — this seems to be the only way to make it work.
Typical biopic choice: Julie Walters
Alexander McQueen once told his mother that his biggest fear was “dying before [her].” Then, notably, his suicide came nine days after her death — their bond was so strong that it led many to speculate on how her death freed him up to do something he’d long been contemplating. Julie Walters — who you may be most familiar with for her role as Mrs. Weasley throughout the Harry Potter films (though she’s in just about every other British film, as well) — has a sweetness, slyness, and total lack of pretension that could be an excellent foil to McQueen’s fashion-world friends and foes.
Alternate biopic choice: Lesley Manville
If Julie Walters is too young to play this part, then Lesley Manville is way too young, thus rendering this an alternate choice. But. After seeing her play the mother of a troubled son in the Ibsen play Ghosts, I have no doubt that she + a little makeup could work wonders with this role.
Typical biopic choice: Emma Stone
Though it’d be rather difficult to master the accent, Emma Stone is, as far as striking, vaguely otherworldly looks go, perhaps the closest to Björk. She also possesses a natural goofiness that’d befit Björk’s sense of humor about her public image and celebrity, à la laying an egg on the Red Carpet.
Alternative biopic choice: Ezra Miller
This would actually be the most ideal. Not only do they bear a bizarre resemblance with their naturally jet-black hair, but Ezra Miller has proven an immense versatility — he can be a convincing sociopathic horror, a not-too-stereotypical GBF to an Emma Watson, and a hilariously desperate intern to an Amy Schumer. What would stop him from playing an impeccable Björk?
Typical biopic choice: Billy Zane
John Galliano, the fashion world’s token anti-Semitic pirate, was the subject of dual biography Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. The two had superficially parallel lives: both were gay, controversial fashion stars with personal lives the press loved to set in lurid prose, coming from working-class families (Galliano the son of a plumber, McQueen the son of a taxi driver), and they attended the same school. The two inevitably ended up in the same circles, and McQueen succeeded Galliano at Givenchy when he left to take over Dior. Galliano could show up and say something revolting on various occasions in the biopic, and in giving him a close look, beneath the braids and swashbuckling mustache, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Billy Zane. (And his flair for sleaze and villainy, as committed to collective memory by Titanic, would be quite fitting).
Alternative biopic choice: Captain Jack Sparrow + Pee-wee
The comparisons between the designer and the pirate that began the end of Johnny Depp’s involvement in good movies are all over the Internet. So perhaps it’d be easiest to not cast an actor at all, but rather use found footage from the Pirates movies — or even one of these nifty Captain Jack Sparrow Barbies — to portray him. Then, for the sheer purpose of making him a little creepier, intercut that with random footage from Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Typical biopic choice: Julianne Moore
Meryl Streep already got to play an Anna Wintour-inspired character in The Devil Wears Prada, so perhaps this time around another screen legend should play the fashion/editorial legend.
Alternative biopic choice: A mink
Because Anna Wintour has courted controversy for her passion for wearing fur, would it not be a dynamic casting choice to switch the narrative, giving a mink the chance to embody Wintour?
Typical biopic choice: Lena Dunham
Michelle Olley is the British writer/journalist who famously became the centerpiece of Alexander McQueen’s VOSS show, modeling naked, covered in moths, face painted silver and hooked up to a network of tubes. I’d be surprised if Lena Dunham hasn’t already done this.
Alternative biopic choice: Aidy Bryant
It’s about time the wonderful Aidy Bryant followed the path of every other Comedian Who Does a Serious Thing, and it’s hard to think of something more serious than posing covered in insects in a shattered-glass case on a dilapidated, deer-hoof-adorned divan.
Typical biopic choice: Bel Powley
Magazine editor Isabella Blow was Alexander McQueen’s mentor — having “discovered” him and purchased the entirety of his graduate collection. (Their tight bond allegedly began to loosen as McQueen rose to fame; eventually, due to depression and feeling defeated by ovarian cancer, Blow committed suicide in 2007.) It’s easy to see how Bel Powley — who no one would complain about seeing in more films — could mirror Blow’s iconoclastic style, and the air of intelligent kookiness the various images of her reveal.
Alternative biopic choice: Aubrey Plaza
Though she’s mostly shown her ability as a comic actress, there’s something about her charmingly sardonic sensibility and style that’d make this an interesting foray into drama for Plaza.
Typical biopic choice: Alicia Vikander
Socialite Annabelle Nielson (who’s currently a fixture of Bravo’s Ladies of London) was one of McQueen’s best (and longest-lasting) friends, who, per Ladies of London, “continues to run in the hippest crowds.” The role could be either a flamboyant comic relief or a flawed connoisseur of superficial interaction and luxury — or both! Alicia Vikander made all of her roles — from robots to early-20th-century painters — memorable last year, and could certainly bring complexity to this curious character.
Alternative casting: Rihanna
Socialite. Hedonist. Baller. Nipple-forward dress. Done.
Typical biopic casting choice: Tilda Swinton
Whatever validity the rumors of Tilda Swinton playing David Bowie — whose 1996-1997 tours were costumed by McQueen — in another upcoming biopic have, the very fact that there are even rumors means that Swinton is a shoo-in for the category of “typical biopic casting.” Despite the fact that this would mean gender-bending and would thus be atypical of a biopic, anything else would be would be atypical of Bowie. Plus, Swinton and Bowie already joked about being doppelgängers.
Alternative biopic casting choice: Kanye West
Some people are currently, stupidly very upset about — and are petitioning against — rumors of Kanye’s attempt at (figuratively) stepping into David Bowie’s shoes. And so it’d be an extremely pregnant gesture to cast Kanye as Bowie. Surely he’s already done it in his mind, anyway.
Only Cate Blanchett can play this dress.