Actors and actresses may need to begin worrying about their job security. On top of the reappearance of the late actor Peter Cushing for a role in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” it’s been revealed that acclaimed director Martin Scorsese is using de-aging technology to work with Robert De Niro on their next collaboration, “The Irishman.”
The currently-in-release “Rogue One” employed some of the latest in CGI wizardry from Industrial Light & Magic to help directly tie its story into that of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. One such way to fold the prequel over with the original films was in bringing actor Cushing in again for a surprisingly substantial role. Cushing passed away in 1994.
At a certain point, will physical actors be needed on screen anymore?
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As Grand Moff Tarkin, Cushing was recreated and performing as if he were still a living, breathing actor. While the move has impressed many technically, it’s made others uneasy about the prospect of using this tech in future films. Even “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards admitted in a recent interview with IGN that the thought of bringing back the late actor made him nervous.
“We were all very nervous about it and kind of, ‘Can we do this? Is it crazy?’ Because we can’t get it wrong — it has to be spot-on,” Edwards said.
In the interview, Edwards credited visual effects supervisor Jon Knoll with having the confidence to recreate an actor digitally and selling producer Kathleen Kennedy on the idea. Actor Guy Henry was brought in as a sort of stand-in for Cushing; he has a similar look and build and the actor’s estate had to sign off on the venture; it saw nothing but the final product onscreen.
Though “One” has earned sizable box office returns and praises from critics thus far, the Cushing debate is a little more mixed:
- “Congratulations to Hollywood on digging up Peter Cushing’s corpse and making it dance for money,” tweeted @pixelatedboat.
- “I saw the film this evening and was really saddened to see the great Peter Cushing as a computerized puppet. Unethical,” tweeted @LordOfSwede.
- And @MinovskyArticle tweeted, “Uncanny Valley CGI Peter Cushing was morbid and off-putting.”
Others weren’t as harsh. But it has been clear since the release of the film that it’s questionable whether people want to watch passed-on actors digitally recreated for new performances. While special effects are the new rage and fill nearly every modern blockbuster, the use of them to create humans isn’t an easy sell.
Martin Scorsese’s newest collaboration with Robert De Niro — though it does not bring anyone back to life — is looking into using the same sort of technology to de-age the actor. This is something sure to stoke longtime worries both within and outside the industry about studios being youth-obsessed.
“Well, it’s an extraordinary technology that we’ve been looking at. You don’t use prosthetics [or] make-up … The technology is able to have [the actors] go through different time ages without the prosthetics. So we’ve seen some tests and it looks extraordinary. We were able to film Bob [De Niro] and just do a scene, and we saw it come down to when he was like [age] 20, 40, 60 — so we’re looking forward to that, from that point of view, for ‘The Irishman,’” said producer Gaston Pavlovich in an interview with CinemaBlend.
The film looks to reunite actors De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci in a gangster film reminiscent of their work in “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” The majority of the story will likely need the actors to be younger, so it could use the technology on all three actors for a majority of the movie.
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If de-aging the actors is able to be sold on some level — it’s sure to kick up more ageism controversy within the industry.
“There is this pressure in Hollywood to be ageless,” actress Jennifer Aniston told Yahoo! Beauty about the reality of aging in front of the cameras in an unsympathetic Hollywood. She’s not the only one to feel the pressure.
A bill was passed in California this year that allows actors to have their ages removed from IMDB upon request — in fear of a disinterested industry.
Now, new technology can simply de-age an actor 30, 40, or even 50 years. While it’s a big question whether audiences will accept a falsely digitized De Niro in a film after the mixed Cushing response, it’s not a surprise to see Hollywood looking for and finding new ways for technology to allow its stars to de-age.
The industry is already plagued with controversy about its limited roles for older actors, women, and minorities — despite constant preaching to the rest of the world about inclusivity. But this new technology is a way to further avoid stories involving an older demographic of characters, despite the success of movies revolving around older characters — for example, “Last Vegas” and “The Bucket List.”
The larger question at hand is the future of such technology. The use by Disney and by a respectable director like Scorsese suggest such advances in CGI are here to stay, and are only going to be developed further. How much further the technology can go is anyone’s guess. At a certain point, will physical actors be needed on screen anymore? Will audiences accept entire films with actors like Robert Redford and De Niro de-aged into their 20s?
Will people see new releases from late performers like Marilyn Monroe, Tupac Shakur, or Jimmy Stewart? Or is it all just a little too creepy?