Post Mortem Performers

Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Mockingjay

Philip Seymour Hoffman was praised as ‘perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation’.  Sadly, in 2014 he was found dead in his Manhattan apartment from a drug overdose after a life-long battle with addiction.  Unusually, he also died mid-way through filming The Hunger Games’ The Mockingjay, which left many fans wondering how the the producers would solve this tricky problem.  The shocking answer: it wasn’t CGI.

According to the director using ‘digital trickery’ to create a mock-Hoffman would have disrespected his legacy, so his remaining two scenes were rewritten and the dialogue given to other actors.  When the dialogue was only appropriate for Hoffman’s character, Plutarch, the producers cleverly remastered footage from previous scenes to ensure that the onscreen Hoffman was still ‘real’.  With all this cinematographic magic the producers only had to drop one scene, which was the final one between Katniss and Plutarch.

The situation raised questions about the ethics of CGI.  Do fans want to see a digital, avatar-like version of their favourite actor? Michael Jackson’s hologram at the Billboard Music Awards was not a respectful tribute, it was a creepy pastiche that did not respect Jackson as complex, creative being.  The point of acting genius is it can’t be replaced by CGI, however far we’ve advanced with technology, especially not talent like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Florianne Humphrey.

Paul Walker – Fast & Furious 7

It is tragically ironic, but halfway through filming Fast & Furious 7, actor Paul Walker was killed in a car crash.  Walker had only filmed half of his scenes, which returned the film to production for months.  Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, was going to be in action-packed scenes where the camera would be directly focused on his face.  CGI and edited footage from previous films were insufficient.  Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, stepped in as body doubles and Walker’s face was digitally layered on top of theirs, his voice computer-generated.  The team that created Walker’s CGI was Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, who created Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  If that’s not tragic magic, I don’t know what is.

Director, James Wan, said that it was necessary ‘to finish this movie to honour Paul’s legacy and his memories.  It was about making this movie for Paul.’  Although many would find it uncomfortable that Walker’s own grieving brothers had to play his character, it represented their personal tribute to him. The entire ending was a tribute. After Walker’s death, the cast and crew felt it fitting to rewrite it as a farewell to both Walker and his character.   The ending is a montage of Walker’s previous Fast and Furious films to Wiz Khalifa’s tear-jerker of a song, ‘See You Again’, which was commissioned for the film.  The song is Khalifa’s most successful single and one of the longest running rap number-ones in the UK.  Fittingly, Walker’s character was not killed off but retired, driving off along a different path to Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. Florianne Humphrey.

Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

In 2008, Ledger died from an accidental drug overdose during the editing of Batman’s The Dark Knight where he played the infamously evil Joker.  Ledger’s performance won numerous posthumous awards: an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe.

Unlike Hoffman and Walker, Ledger had finished filming when he died.  However, the controversy doesn’t come from the use of CGI but the rumours that the role itself led to Ledger’s death.  Some people suggest that Ledger got so deeply into character that he was ‘haunted’ by the Joker even after filming.  Ledger himself even said that ‘performance comes from absolutely believing what you’re doing.  You convince yourself, and believe in the story with all your heart.’  Michael Caine said that, on set, the performance sometimes become so frightening that Ledger forgot his own lines.  It doesn’t seem unreasonable that playing a psychotic, murderous villain could affect an actor, especially when inspiration for that character came from hyenas, clowns, and the cruel protagonist of A Clockwork Orange.  Ledger even kept a diary during filming so he could play around with the character, whose excerpts appear in a German documentary Heath Ledger: Too Young To Die. Hauntingly, the diary even ended with ‘bye bye’, which some say was a sign of his impending death.

Whether the rumours are true or not, what is certain is that his death had such an impact that there were world-wide tributes in his honour.  For example, Kasabian wrote the line ‘Joker, meet you on the other side’ in their song ‘Vlad the Impaler’ and Ledger’s home town of Perth named a theatre after him. Florianne Humphrey.

Alan Rickman – Eye in the Sky

Drone thriller Eye in the Sky saw Alan Rickman play devil’s advocate in a fine post-mortem performance as General Benson opposite an irate, irrational Dame Helen Mirren. While Mirren directed events on the ground at military HQ, Rickman was sitting aloof behind his laptop in the corridors of bureaucratic Whitehall. He conducts the symphony of the strike, but his role is primarily political, lobbying his superiors in order to justify direct action and eliminate the target. This is Rickman’s driest, desert tone, that thespian’s tongue flaring one final time in the face of his presumptuously inept political superiors. As last performances go it was an understated, underplayed final throe, that resonated with the humanity Rickman had made his signature. Filling each of his characters to the very brim of their capacity, Rickman played on the edge of caricature, but always maintained the deftest of dramatical touches in order to create a person from a performance. While General Benson was certainly not his best onscreen role, a decent film with a great cast and a real twenty first century message, was a most fitting tribute to a man who will forever be remembered for the length of his robes. Rory McInnes-Gibbons.

James Gandolfini – The Drop

The Drop was never trying to reinvent the wheel. In so doing, it dropped a whole new genre: the gentle gangster film. Starring opposite Tom Hardy’s Bob, Gandolfini’s Cousin Marv is the archetypal former mobster. In theory, he is desperate for a final fling to relive his gangster glory days. In reality, he is a walking dinosaur in a mafia world that has moved from the Godfather’s typically Neapolitan or Sicilian gangs into the nightmare realm of the chiselled Chechen. Cousin Marv is Tony Soprano transplanted from the streets of New Jersey and drowned in the Brooklyn depths of Russian roulette. Gandolfin’s role is a fitting memento for a lost time and a lost man. Out of time and out of place. But the Soprano showcases the passion with which he had made his name, while the role as the end of the road gangster resonated tragically with the last year of a much-missed character actor who had lit both big and little screens with his almighty presence. Gandolfini had the pure physicality, but also expressive range of human emotion to bring larger-than-life characters down to a relative, relatable level. His was an artistry in huge hands. .

Rowan Williams – Night at the Museum

Despite the tragic nature of Robin William’s death in August 2014 (and the outpouring of affection for the actor that followed), it would be disingenuous to say that Williams’ posthumous performances have had a particularly important impact on our overall perception of the comic. It is true that his last onscreen role in Night of the Museum: Secret of the Tomb wrapped up things nicely. His final words as a wax statue of Teddy Roosevelt – ‘smile my boy, its sunrise’ – all too poignantly pointed to William’s history battling depression. The film’s director Shawn Levy, noted that ‘the Night of the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’s central theme is about letting go of something you love’ and that he ‘never expected it would also be about letting go of this actor we all love.’ Nevertheless, William’s final voiceover part as ‘Dennis the Dog’ in the critically panned science fiction comedy Absolutely Anything didn’t do justice to the array of talents the performer most famously showcased in the animated classic, Aladdin. As such it is perhaps right that we consider Robin William’s own will as his most significant parting gift. In containing a clause that prevents Disney from using William’s ‘Genie’ voice in future Aladdin spin-offs, the world will be saved from cumbersome and hackneyed manipulations of his most famous creation. All the same, it hurts that we will never have a friend like him again. .

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