Robert Mapplethorpe to be played by Matt Smith in biopic: brilliant?


Iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s life is being made in a full-length movie entitled, Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe, who rose to prominence in the 70s, was known for controversial subjects and an all-encompassing personality. He also enjoyed a celebrated relationship with the Godmother of Punk and Pirelli Calendar girl, Patti Smith. Two-time Sundance winning director and writer Ondi Timoner will helm the project. Doctor Who and The Crown’s Matt Smith has been cast to play Mapplethorpe with Girls Zosia Mamet portraying Patti. Mapplethorpe began dating Patti after they met in art school. The duo famously went to live at the Chelsea where they evolved into photography and songwriting respectively. During that time, Mapplethorpe realized his sexuality, which obviously hindered his romance with Patti, but the two remained dear friends. It was during this time that Mapplethorpe began exploring his interest in the underground sadomasochism scene, images he would notoriously commit to film. As he openly advertised his desire to be a celebrity throughout his life, finally being the star of a film seems fitting.

Robert Mapplethorpe was born for the big screen. The controversial photographer who died in 1989 at the age of just 42, after a fight with Aids, was dashing, dark and dangerous. He imagines himself as some kind of sinister screen idol – James Dean reinvented by David Lynch – in a self-portrait out of which he gazes with sexually charged insolence, macho in black leather jacket and slicked hair, cigarette hanging from his lips, a dark star from Hollywood’s nightmares.
Now he is to hit the big screen posthumously in both a documentary and a biopic. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures has just shown at Sundance, and while this factual examination of his art and life is gathering acclaim, it has also emerged that Matt Smith – yes, him, the Eleventh Doctor – is to play Mapplethorpe in a film currently titled simply Mapplethorpe… He can certainly do the hair. In fact, it seems great casting.
But the fascinating thing here is how an artist’s life story – and the way it is told – can shape art history. In his lifetime, Robert Mapplethorpe was highly contentious, and not just because of the provocative content of some of his art. His photographs of the male nude and of gay sadomasochist subculture saw him attacked by the American right, with Senator Jesse Helms denouncing his art in Congress. Yet he also divided critics whose own views were impeccably liberal.

[From The Guardian]

I was surprised to find out that Mapplethorpe had not had a movie made of him prior. He lived life large, it kind of begs for a biopic. The article goes on to discuss that critics of Mapplethorpe saw him as wanting to be an “art star” rather than a serious artist.

I agree that Matt Smith is great casting, being approachable yet eccentric. I don’t know much about Zosia. She seems to have the edge that would be necessary to tackle Patti. Lord have mercy if she doesn’t do Patti justice – the outcry would be legion, myself included. This movie seems to be riding a Mapplethopre wave this year. The HBO documentary the article mentions received good reviews at Sundance; UPROXX hypothesizes that the announcement of this project is drafting on that buzz. Patti’s 2010 memoir, Just Kids, which speaks to their relationship, is being developed as a TV show for Showtime. Here in LA, the Getty Center and Los Angeles County Museum of Art have collaborated on a joint installation of his work that will run from March through July. I saw the Getty’s In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in 2012; his still lifes are poetic. If you are not familiar with Mapplethorpe’s work, you can look at his (NSFW) portfolio on the Mapplethorpe Foundation website.

Photo credit: Wenn Photos and Getty Images

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28 Responses to “Robert Mapplethorpe to be played by Matt Smith in biopic: brilliant?”

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  1. Dangles says:

    After seeing Matt play the Doctor then play Bully in The Lost River I’m sure he has the range to play Mapplethorpe.

  2. Sixer says:

    I can’t believe there hasn’t been a biopic either. Fertile material indeed. My friend is the world’s biggest Mapplethorpe fanboy. He’s going to be beside himself with joy.

    • Cee says:

      I’m a big Mapplethorpe dork/fan after seeing an exhibit at the Guggenheim when I was 11 and all I can say right now is that time can not go fast enough.

  3. vauvert says:

    Go Matt! Still wish you were back in the T.A.R.D.I.S but I’ll take what I can.

    • Mia4s says:

      It’s interesting that while I hated hated hated (!!!) him as Doctor Who, since he left he has gotten more interesting to me. He won’t be a leading man (too…ummm, unique looking) but could have a solid indie/character actor career.

  4. InvaderTak says:

    You had me almost excited to see a biopic until we got tothe Patti Smith casting. Just….no.

  5. Insomniac says:

    Oh wow. That’s great news for Matt!

  6. t.fanty says:

    I love this. I don’t know much about Mappelthorpe’s life, so thank you for the education. I’m on board. I love Matt Smith, and was disappointed that they recast American Psycho for Broadway. He needs wider fame.

    • Holmes says:

      I’m not sure he wants “wider fame”. With the exception of that I’ll-advised Terminator movie, his post-Doctor Who acting choices have been quirky indies. If “wider fame” was what he wanted, I’m sure he could have it. Not everyone wants to be a Hollywood star.

  7. Miss Grace Jones says:

    There was a point in high school (I think sophmore or junior year which was like 2010-2011) where I really got into a lot of female bands like Siouxsie and Patti Smith. Idk much about the photographer dude tho.

  8. mom2two says:

    I think Matt is a good choice for this role and this role is a good choice for Matt. He may never be an A List star by Hollywood standards but he is building a very diverse career post Doctor Who.
    He’ll be playing Prince Phillip in the Netflix series The Crown.
    I can’t speak on Zosia and if she is a good choice for Patti Smith.

  9. Miffy says:

    I read this yesterday and I’m apprehensive. I’m not familiar with Matt or Zosia as actors, they’d both want a fierce amount of range and depth because physically they fall flat. Mapplethorpe and Smith were/are sexy ass people… Matt and Zosia from pictures are definitely missing that spark. Someone make me feel better about this!

    • Tig says:

      I get your concern, but I think he’ll handle the role fine. Patti S was always rail thin, so hope they don’t impose weight loss requirements on this actress. Just Kids is an amazing read!

      • Hannah says:

        Mappletorphe was a beautiful man. Patti was as is said very sexy and charismatic. She’s also had/has an androgynous bad ass quality I don’t see in Mamet.
        I have seen Matt in a number of things aesthetically speaking he doesn’t do the part justice. He’s not that pretty.
        Wrong casting in my opinion, hope they don’t ruin just kids 😞

      • SusanneToo says:

        So is M Train.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Smith’s books are just wonderful. I couldn’t put them down.

      • hardcore fluff says:

        The weight question will be interesting. Zosia probably said she was willing to get thin for the sake of the character, but what were the alternatives? Cast a heroin user in the role?

    • Maureen says:

      Matt takes some time but he is one sexy beast. He is an amazing actor. I’m excited about this!

  10. Nance says:

    For me Mapplethorpe will always be the guy who liked a little too much flowers…

  11. Hannah says:

    I am British and maybe it’s the recent ridiculous casting news but even I am getting tired of British actors in every movie. Is there no young American actor who can portray this part?

    I am not into zosia as patti smith either. I think it should be a much more charismatic actress. I’d rather see them go for some unknown with the right charisma.

    • Cranberry says:

      Well since the majority of films are made for the American mainstream audience, most films are going to be about Americans and American culture. So many English speaking, non-American actors have just accepted this and adapted. As an American I relish the British and International competition into the talent pool because we’re getting to see brilliant performers that should be getting more high profile work. There are great American actors, but a lot of the young famous ones aren’t as skilled in the craft because they’ve usually been selected for their marketing appeal and their looks for commercial films or TV which is where the big money’s at. There’s still a lot of good American actors in the independent talent pool but they’re competing with loads of very talented and experienced international actors most of which are never going to be considered for American mainstream stuff. Traditionally it’s been easier for young, charismatic, American actors to cash in on their American-ness and dominate mainstream, commercial work. So I find it refreshing to see more British actors in, the ever dominant, American-centric entertainment.

  12. Everyone always remembers the bullwhips in arses…but he actually did great black and white flower photography a la Imogen Cunningham as well.

  13. Sarah01 says:

    He’s a very talented actor, not really a fan of Mapplethorpe but a story is s story it depends how well it’s told.

  14. crack fox says:

    I’m furious. He ain’t pretty enough to play Mapplethorpe. I say dye Evan Peters’s hair brown and give him the role. I always saw Kate Moennig playing Patti Smith.

  15. Kelly says:

    Mapplethorpe was more than just a photographer of gay underground scene. He was a great photographer period. Yes his homoerotic photography was challenging to many but it broke down boundaries of what is art. He was part of an amazing art scene of New York which should make for an interesting movie. I hope they bring in the vibrant time but also a time of fear under the stigma and epidemic of AIDS. Mapplethorpe had a partner Sam Wagstaff who was from a wealthy background. Wagstaff was an art director, curator, and collector. There is a biography about Wagstaff out as well as his papers are digitized at Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Wagstaff helped lead collecting of American contemporary art and photography. Having said all that I am not sure about casting Matt Smith and Zosia Mamet. I agree it would be nice to have an American actor especially since I am not sure about Matt Smith’s American accent.

    • Holmes says:

      His American accent is fine. He is a trained actor. It’s not as if it’s an especially difficult accent to do.

  16. Miss Jupitero says:

    I think this is great casting, and yes, it is about time for a biopic!

    As for Zosia Mamet playing Smith: I think she has the chops both as an actress and as a musician. I adore Smith, she is one of my personal icons, and I will be howling if she doesn’t pull it off, but I think she will.

  17. Olga says:

    Actually, according to Just Kids, Patti and Robert met in a shop. Also, wrong casting. Just wrong kids.