With a few new musical biopics headed our way, there's a question to consider: Just how musically inclined should an actor be when they take on the role of a musician?

We expect a lot from the pros -- good chemistry, believable delivery of lines, sincere emotion -- but what about musical aptitude? We'll discuss whether the actor looks the part, but less often challenge whether they can hit the right notes. Sometimes it surely doesn't matter. If the band's music is simple enough, the skills can be learned before shooting. Thanks to the wonder of dubbing, if it's just singing, only the showmanship and performance matter. (Although there are times that actors can surprise with both, like Val Kilmer's stunning embodiment of Jim Morrison in The Doors.)

But when it comes to more talented musicians, it's not so easy to fake. If one is iconic enough to be immortalized once again on film, shouldn't the performance show that artistry? Some itch for James Franco to become Jeff Buckley in that upcoming biopic, but he's the one hopeful without any musical talent -- and no matter what he could learn on the fly, it wouldn't come close to Buckley's, well, Grace. Why bother with the project if we can't watch the notes flow through the fingers as they grasp the strings or pound the keys?
When Dennis Quaid took on Great Balls of Fire, he did some playing, but those memorable scenes of the fingers flying over the keys -- that was all stunt hands. His performance made up for this, but it's not the same as getting a full shot of the actor playing. When Robert Pattinson played the piano in Twilight, I remember carefully watching the camera pan up from his hands and realizing that he was, indeed, playing each note.

The realization was the most pleasant shock because Pattinson didn't need to fake it with that oft-used flimsy look of intent concentration. You know the look -- when the actor pretends to play, but every gesture and facial expression betray them, shouting: "I don't know what I'm doing!"

But perhaps I'm just musically sensitive. Do you care if actors have some degree of musical ability when they take on these roles? Are you perfectly happy to see stunt hands pound the keys or films cut footage in a way that we can't tell when they're strumming the wrong notes? Or, do you wish for performances where the music is just as important as the character?

And as a follow-up, which actors have done the best and worst job making music come to life on the big screen?
categories Cinematical