My first experience with Nirvana, and Grunge for that matter, was a bleary eyed listen to Heart Shaped Box, one of the more controversial songs on their critically lauded album, In Utero. I was thirteen, and my musical taste had still yet to develop a foundation. My mother was always up before light to get ready for work, and I had still been in bed. She called me into her room and asked me to watch a video clip being played in the background while a news personality pretended to be supremely shocked and offended by the content. I mean, yes…Diapered-Santa Jesus on a cross getting pecked by robot crows can be sort of horrifying depending on who you are. Me? I wanted to know who the hell these guys were. Grunge was not the entirety of my musical foundation after that day, but it was certainly an ingredient in the mix, Nirvana being a healthy component.
One thing you can say about true, die-hard Nirvana fans is this – the wound has never completely healed. Kurt Cobain’s death remains fresh, the loss of what could have been palpable, and the protective nature of said fans of Kurt’s image and that of the band is evident. There have been myriad books and documentaries, some lauded and others rightly tossed to the dogs. Now, these sixteen years after his death, a Kurt biopic is in the works.
Radar Online is reporting that Robert Pattinson, of Harry Potter and Twilight fame, has been in deep talks with Courtney Love to don the moss green cardigan. Love, as executor of Kurt’s estate, has rarely been accused of doing justice to Cobain’s memory, or the band that he, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl made famous. From tastelessly selling Activision the rights to use Kurt’s image in Guitar Hero 5, to doing everything in her power to cut the surviving members of Nirvana out of the legacy of the band they created. While Pattinson is certainly not a disastrous choice on his own merit as an actor, if true, the decision to cast him is less than stellar. Like it or not, Pattinson wears a scarlet letter – and body glitter (I’m sorry), and that letter is a ‘T’. I’m not saying his career is permanently stained, as he is clearly a talented actor who will continue to pull in a mixed palette of work. His acting elevated what was otherwise a painfully plotted Remember Me, and does an excellent job of playing a conflicted Salvador Dalí in Little Ashes. That said…no. NO. He doesn’t have the look, nor the depth to play the part of a deeply troubled Kurt Cobain. Past that, right now, Pattinson is entirely too close to the lonely housewife friendly Twilight; the gravity of these films is too great. With more shirtless moments with Kristen Stewart on the horizon, I cannot see the Nirvana fanbase embracing him as their faux Kurt.
Whomever plays Kurt Cobain, has to be Kurt Cobain. Some actors can get away with a less than passing resemblance with the strength of their performance, but Pattinson is not him – and in this instance nobody could pull that off. The look has to be there, as well as the acting chops to fill Cobain’s sneakers. Admittedly, as interesting as Kurt Cobain is, in the end he was a troubled musician with a drug addiction. There were many more cut from that cloth with stories equally if not more intriguing and tragic that came before him. Still, this is my generation’s Lennon, Elvis, or Morrison. I’m not suggesting his story is the ultimate challenge for an actor, but still – truly great actors draw a lot from their muse , and there is a hell of a lot of mystique built around Cobain. So, who then? Which actors have the depth of performance to bring Kurt Cobain back to life, for the pleasure (and pain) of a highly critical fanbase? Below, are five such examples.
1. Ewen McGregor
One need only look at Trainspotting to know that McGregor can slip into the body and mind of a drug addict. Cobain spent much of his career addicted to heroin, an addiction reportedly developed to relieve chronic stomach pains caused by anxiety brought on by the stress of stardom. Past this, however, is the physical similarity. Kurt had a wild, off-kilter grin, piercing blue eyes, and a lanky body hidden under as many layers of clothing as he could put on. Past the easily remedied last part, did I not just describe Mark Renton? McGregor was more than halfway there in 1996. Ewen McGregor has the pedigree to take a Kurt Cobain biopic to the next level.
2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since 3rd Rock From the Sun. He’s done nothing but exhibit great range and depth over the last few years. From Mysterious Skin, Brick, and (500) Days of Summer, he has clearly established himself as an actor who can provide a lot of emotional variety to any part he plays. At 29, like me, he may have caught the craze a little late, but no matter. I believe he could slip into Kurt’s skin with ease, and provide a stellar performance.
3. Peter Sarsgaard
Like McGregor, Sarsgaard is 39. Unlike McGregor, however, he almost looks his age. A lot can be done with makeup and post-production magic though, and Sarsgaard still has the look. Add to that a film resume that has seen Sarsgaard run the gamut of personalities and character types with uncanny ease, and you yet again find another prospective Kurt performance elevated by excellence.
4. James McAvoy
He’s got the eyes, the scruff, and the acting chops to pull it all together. As far back as Band of Brothers, McAvoy was putting in solid performances, andI feel really hit his stried after The Last King of Scotland. At thirty, he still has the youthful look to play the part of Kurt from a late teen all the way up to his death at 27. He may not yet be on the level of Sarsgaard or McGregor, but again, he may not need to be. He still has an excellent screen presence, and I feel confident would do the part justice.
5. Ryan Gosling
Gosling is my throw-away choice, and I still feel like he’s light years better than Pattinson for the role. Again, it wouldn’t take a lot of work to make him look like Kurt, he’s an award winning actor, and as a bonus…dude can sing. With such little to say about Gosling, you can likely gather that my estimation of Pattinson’s ability to pull off a memorable Kurt Cobain is exceedingly low.
Now, in all of this it is important to mention that regardless of who the final choice is, Courtney Love is in control of every aspect of this film, down to the screenplay. If her past antics are any indication of Love’s ability to do right by the legacy of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, the entire project may be in many more levels of danger than a questionable pick for lead. Who’s to say it will ever see pre-production? On the level of a fan, the bigger question is, if it does get that far, how much revisionist history will there be in the final draft? I find it difficult to believe that the sour relationship between Love, Novoselic, and Grohl will not greatly tint the story.
I’m curious to see how this all plays out, and perhaps crossing my fingers that repeated past behavior derails this project until such time as more favorable circumstances surround it.
Here is hoping…