Update: This article originally mistakingly stated it would happen in ‘The Force Awakens’ but the Daily Mail reports it’s happening in ‘Rogue One’.
Update2: MoviePilot.com confirms from their source that this is indeed happening, there’s even “concept art of Tarkin for Rogue One… and the execution of his CGI character has been explained as being one of the most expensive renderings ever.”
Peter Cushing had a successful career starring in films such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), as well as playing Dr. Who in two 1960’s films, he played Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), and we can’t forget him as Governor Tarkin in the original Star Wars trilogy. Sadly he passed away August 11, 1994 from prostate cancer, putting him into the group of beloved actors we will never get to see again except in the past. A recent article in the Daily Mail (though it’s probably just a rumor) has lead the internet to begin speculating about if we will see a CGI reproduction of Peter Cushing in the new Star Wars film, ‘Rogue One’. What, what, WHAT? I have a big problem with the idea of bringing back deceased actors for new films.
Don’t misinterpret me, CGI is amazing and has done amazing things for TV and films since the late 90’s. Just look at Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy (2010). Sure there was supposed to be an air of ‘fake’ in the sense that younger Bridges’s character Clue exists only in the video game world, but still DAYUM! This doesn’t bother me in the slightest, even if it were crappy CGI, if the actor is able to willingly consent to the use of another CGI image of themselves; great! I know you’re thinking now, ‘but Maddie what about all of the advertising used with images of deceased people in their advertisements to gain traction, is this not the same issue of consent?’ For me, no. An image, or even song written by someone deceased, are pieces of the past that can’t be altered after the originator is dead, while still claiming to be by that person directly. You can alter an image of Abe Lincoln, and make him have kittens perched on his shoulders, as long as the image is public domain, or you have the rights- banks often use images of presidents we see on our bills and alter them in some way- but no one is ever coming back saying ‘well duh Abe totally did that in real life’. At first glance digitally recreating an actor for a movie seems harmless like just altering a regular image. But think about what we would REALLY be doing. We would be recreating their personality, or perceived on set personality, for the movie’s own promotional and financially beneficial use- instead of for the actors benefit. This means, someone else would be thinking for the deceased, instead of said person being able to think for themselves. Starting to feel irked yet?
Why do actors act? Some just for money and fame in all honesty, but most because they want to find new and interesting ways to take the words from a script and make a viewer believe them. Often actors go completely off script and end up with the most AMAZING moments when they do, this will never be able to happen again if we start digitally reproducing actors.
Let’s look at a couple of actors who died mid-shooting or mid-season and the crew continued on without them. Brandon Lee died in 1994 during an accidental shooting before The Crow was finished, and through CGI, body doubles, and obscuring the characters face they were able to successfully finish the film in a very convincing way. Convincing to the eye, and audibly of course but did we as viewers lose any subtleties from the final scenes, probably. More notably in 2001 Nancy Marchand, Livia Soprano on The Sopranos, died of lung cancer. They attempted to do CGI mapping of her face and cut and edit voice clips to make her character continue to exist on the show, but due to it’s lack of realism they had to kill the character off. Their main reason for getting rid of the character though was because it wasn’t real looking enough- THEN GET ANOTHER ACTOR. Guess what, blockbuster series Harry Potter did it for Dumbledore when Richard Harris passed away after the second movie. Michael Gambon was cast into the role, and were we as viewers skeptical? Of course, but he had a completely different take on how to interpret the role and lines given, and helped to compliment the growing darkness in the story-line. This goes back to my previous thought- were they to have decided to CGI Richard Harris into the next films, Dumbledore as a character wouldn’t have grown on film, definitely not in any direction that Harris may have wanted- because who knows where he would have actually wanted the character to be taken!
Is it really so hard for audiences to accept another actor for roles previously played by someone else? The sad truth is, we are all dying in our own way at different speeds, when a loved friend or family member passes we mourn and try to let them go. We remember them, we look at pictures, we smile at home movies, and keep their integrity alive by keeping them in our hearts. If a few years after my grandmother had died someone came to me and said “I’m going to produce a new home movie of her, based off of what I think she would say if given these situational cues. We good?” I would have freaked the freak out, and still would. I think that sometimes we forget that celebrities, while being beautiful, talented, and age defying (in many cases), are also just people. Regular(ish) people, with families and loved ones who see them as so much more than just a character from a movie.
Christopher Lee, close friend and coworker with Peter Cushing, had some touching words about his passing “I don’t want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”
It is most likely to be a grossly blown out of proportion rumor that Cushing will be CGI-ed into the new Star Wars film, but no matter what this is a very real demon to face with our rapidly growing cinema technology. But I continue to ask myself, how would Mr. Cushing feel? What would you feel? It all feels a bit grimy to me, just another ploy to get more money from someone’s famous name.