10 ways the casting of the Bill Hicks movie could have been worse

There are fates a lot worse than Russell Crowe for this piece of casting...

The man who shouldn't be Bill

One of my proudest claims is that I actually saw Bill Hicks perform in the flesh: I sat in awe on the front row of his show at Leicester University, aged 17. I honestly cried with laughter, and cried when it finished. We stood, we cheered, we went home wondering when we’d get another chance to see him speak again. We dreamt of a chance that never came. We still tell the tale and feel the tingle in our chests…

Maybe you understand, maybe you don’t, but Bill was my man…

I never went for the whole ‘he speaks for me’ bullshit that surrounded Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Morrissey, Cobain et al; I actively rejected anyone vaguely described as ‘the voice of a generation’, believing such devotion to be the rantings of people desperate to attach themselves to a concept, an entity, bigger than they could ever hope to be themselves. I guess I knew a little too much about Bob Dylan than is strictly necessary for a 16-year old to know.

Yet, Hicks still got to me. I knew I was right, and being a fan-boy fool, I was simply powerless to fight it.

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From the very first time I stumbled across his Just For Laughs special on Channel 4, frantically scuttling for a video to capture the speed-of-light, crazed preacher rattling out polemic before my eyes, I was his. Maybe I needed a radical voice to coalesce my thoughts around, maybe I needed someone my parents couldn’t relate to, maybe I empathised with the slightly chubby not-quite-good-looking outsider, and maybe I was young and stupid… Maybe all three… It doesn’t matter; the damage is done. If Bill had’ve formed a cult, I’d’ve been in the queue for the robes, believe me.

Frankly, the thought of a Hicks biopic makes me sick to my stomach. The very pit of it. I don’t yet know why it’s wrong, but it is. I don’t want Bill to myself, or anything stupid like that – I’ve spent the last 15 years trying to tell people about him, but I don’t want anybody to meddle with a thing so fragile and contrary as his psychological motivations for being the man he was, for saying the things he did and living the life he lived. I don’t want the Hollywood Bill, not now… Not ever.

But, Russell Crowe and scriptwriter Micheal Staufer are – allegedly – set to try. I am not in favour of this, but one thought has permeated my thoughts on the matter: It Could Be Worse… Here’s ten people that could’ve played Bill in some horrible alternative universe that lives in my head. Pray these alternative universes stay right where they are. It’s not good.

10. Michael Madsen Madsen does cool, cruel, overweight and sullen, but little else. So he’s only 40% there.

9. Tom CruiseIt’s a good job Tom’s Scientologistic (I can’t even be arsed to look up the proper word) beliefs would probably not chime too well with the Hicks oeuvre – cynical humanism and all. If Cruise goes secular time soon, be afraid though; if he’s desperate enough for a coolness boost to don a fat suit for Ben Stiller, this’d be like all his Christmases come at once. Could certainly ‘do’ the floppy fringe, and slightly deranged smile like he was born for it.

8. Tom Hanks I’ll go to hell for saying this – except that there isn’t one, so here goes: just be thankful that Bill didn’t die of AIDS, or some Hollywood exec surely would have put the call into Hanks years ago. Cancer just doesn’t put the bums on seats in the same way…

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7. Peter Kay“… eh, eh, have you heard the one about the totalitarian regime of ultra-powerful businessmen ruling America using a puppet government and executive powers to crush resistance? It’s a good one this, stop me if you know it…”

6. Johnny Depp The kind of cult role that Depp would pile on four stones for, despite being far too pretty for it. You’d have to endure long scenes of doleful reflection, as Depp ‘says it all with his eyes’… and extended workshopping of the phrase “play from your fucking heart”, whilst Depp blatantly does it all from the head, because he’s so much deeper and cleverer than all of us… He wears a beret you know, he must be…

5. Al Pacino A long shot, I’ll admit but – seeing as Pacino appears to have co-opted Bill’s tendency to go from quiet reflection to VERY LOUD SHOUTING (seemingly at the drop of a hat) as his main acting chop for virtually every movie he’s made in the last 15 years – maybe he’d like to pay a formal tribute to the main man.

4. Cate BlanchettIf Todd Haynes ends up getting his hands on Mark Staufer’s script, it could happen. She’s already played the other American that has shaped my life, so who says she couldn’t hit Taco Bell with Willie Nelson and get up to a fighting weight?

3. Josh Holloway What could be worse that the chiselled jaw of Lost’s Sawyer – the current US TV Southerner Du Jour – being stuffed into a black suit and given a dye-job to play a pretty-boy Bill? Two words…

2. Mark Wahlberg Bill would turn in his grave at the thought of Marky Mark headlining his biopic. Having once described his brother Donny’s band as “ball-less, soul-less, spiritless suckers of Satan’s cock, each and every one”, you can’t imagine him having a much higher opinion of this dancing rapper turned actor…

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1. Denis LearyThe man Wahlberg replaced in cast of The Departed tops our list. Why? Well this would truly be the final insult to the memory of a great man, for it would give credence to the performer who used Hicks’ act as a stepping stone to the US entertainment mainstream. Leary quickly established himself as the safer version of Big Bad Bill – whose religious material had fallen notoriously foul of the Letterman’s censors, amongst others – and cashed in accordingly.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; Leary had a top-notch manic streak, he did all the ranting, smoking and swearing too – but it came with none of Bill’s meddlesome ideology, compassionate humanism or principled political thought to back it up. But that matters not, when there’s a 10 minute couch slot to fill, or a comedy LP to be made and for 10 minutes, it was a hoot.

What’s more important to his career though, was that Leary knew when to throttle it back for the sake of getting his mush on the box… Thus he was the perfect anti-poster boy for American entertainment: a new Danny Zuko for the vacuity of the 90s MTV that made him.

Hicks, instead of confessing to suffering from the cancer that would eventually take him from us, once famously told an interviewer that he quit smoking ‘to see if Denis Leary would…’ That, my friends, is all you need to know.

But, it could be better…

Three that could play Bill…

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3. Nic Cage Nic Cage is not a real southern boy, but he is a rock’n’rollin’, Elvis-obsessed (to the point of marrying the man’s daughter) weirdo-bloke with a manic streak… I have a vision forming here.

2. John CusackI’ve never seen High Fidelity, simply because I’ve been told that I’m ‘like John Cusack in that movie’ so many times, that I’m afraid of it offering some kind of horrible mirror on my sad life that will force me to a church steeple with a gun…I know a few things though: a) I’m like I am because of Bill; b) Cusack’s like me (apparently); c) He looks frikkin’ top-notch in a black suit and polo neck; d) he could probably drink the hind legs off a Panda; and e) He can make me laugh whilst handling high-powered weaponary. Sounds like the perfect Hicks from where I’m standing, apart from…

1. Bill Hicks Himself… We need you now Bill, more than ever – the fevered egos are running wild, and now they’re co-opting your words into the machinery. They’re selling your life. Quit jamming with Jimi, Janice and Jerry man and get yourself down here… We still miss ya. Can’t we do it animated…?

 

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