Johnny Carson Biopic Is in the Works -- Here Are 5 Actors Who Could Play Him

Johnny Carson Biopic Is in the Works -- Here Are 5 Actors Who Could Play Him

Nov 13, 2012

The bigger the celebrity, the harder he or she is to cast in a biopic. The chosen actor or actress has to be able to pull off an iconic face, perform without coming across as an impersonation and, most importantly, make us forget who we're actually watching up on the screen. Johnny Carson, a man who was in our living rooms nightly for 30 years, is one of the most familiar men, in appearance and behavior, in all of American history. According to Deadline New York, he is getting a feature biopic from the makers of the upcoming film Hitchcock, and I wish them good luck finding the right man for the part. Not even Carnac the Magnificent could foresee any names on that list. You know they're not getting Rich Little to play him again.

Producer Tom Thayer is regrouping with his Hitchcock screenwriter John McLaughlin, who also wrote Black Swan, for an adaptation of Bill Zehme's long-in-the-works book Carson The Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait. Zehme consulted on and appeared in the exceptional recent American Masters documentary on Carson, King of Late Night (watch it here), and he's reportedly the only journalist who the former Tonight Show host talked to after his retirement. So, the material should be quality, but the thing that could make or break something like this is the casting, and there really aren't a whole lot of known stars who could pull off the look and personality, the comedy and the drama, convincingly.

Should they go with an unknown? Or, might any of the following ideas work?

 

 

Bill Hader

He's a bit young if they're looking primarily to cover Carson's years as NBC's late-night talk show host, but Hader has the comedic experience down and isn't too bad a ringer for him if you think about it -- after Hitchcock, Thayer probably won't hesitate using some prosthetics to get it perfect. Of course, as an SNL player, his knack for celebrity portrayals would be viewed too far on the impression side. 

 

Ben Affleck

The Argo director and star has played a few real people now, including TV actor George Reeves, who he didn't bear much resemblance to. At 6'2", he's on the tall side for the 5'10½" Carson, and it's hard to imagine him doing the host's voice without sounding forced. He's just one of the few big stars I could think of whose ears might stick out enough. 

 

Josh Duhamel

While easily recognizable, the Transformers star isn't very high profile, and it's possible he could disappear in this role. He kinda looks like a young Carson to me, but maybe I'm trying too hard. Does he have the acting chops to pull it off is the real question. Also, at 6'3", he's even taller than Affleck, which is really, literally stretching it. 

 

Ben Foster

A fellow Iowan (though born in Boston), this rising talent is much more appropriate in terms of height -- even an inch and a half short -- but he's back to the younger side of the spectrum. They could always go for two actors, with Foster in the Navy and early TV days and longtime lookalike Tommy Smothers taking on later-years Carson.

 

Joe Swanberg

First person who came to mind when I looked at young pictures of Carson is this actor/filmmaker, who is very unknown in the mainstream, meaning he wouldn't be too distracting for most viewers. He's actually the youngest of the choices yet, and he's as tall as Duhamel. But Carson was always a young-looking guy, so the actor needn't be too age-perfect. And as for the height thing, they just need to get a 7' tall giant to play the 6'4" Ed McMahon and the perspective will work. 

 

 

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