Drama, Musicals, Original Wopatizations

Tom Wopat in: Walk the Line 2 (An Original Wopatization… sort of)

as: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is one of the most influential and enduring figures in American music. His distinctive voice and outlaw image made him popular with fans of all music genres, and he remains one of the best-selling recording artists in country music, year in and year out, over a decade after his death. Walk the Line, a film based on Cash’s early life and relationship with fellow singer June Carter was released in 2005 to much critical and commercial success.

But, as the Man in Black’s recording career spanned more than five decades, Walk the Line really only told part of the story. So much more happened in Cash’s life that a sequel, covering his later years, could easily contain enough drama and excitement to bring moviegoers back for more.

While Joaquin Phoenix did a fantastic job as the young, rebellious Cash in the original Walk the Line (earning an Oscar nomination in the process), a more seasoned actor would be needed to portray the older, wiser, but still plenty rebellious, Johnny Cash in a sequel. And we think no one could be better than Tom Wopat.

cash

Why Wopat?

Unlike Phoenix, who had to learn to play guitar specifically for the role, Tom Wopat already has plenty of six-string experience. He’s also an accomplished singer and songwriter, with multiple albums under his belt. (It should be noted that Phoenix did perform all his own vocals in Walk the Line 1.)

At an even six-foot-tall, Wopat is just a couple of inches shorter than the long and lanky Cash. (Phoenix is only 5’8”.) Height doesn’t really matter than much in a movie, but Cash was famously taller than most of his contemporaries, and a little authenticity can go a long way.

Two of the most interesting (and film-ready) tales from Cash’s first autobiography, Man in Black, were left out of Walk the Line 1, as they occurred after the events depicted in the film. Both would be perfect showcases for Wopat’s skills.

The first saw Cash, jazzed on pills of some kind, bail out of his speeding Cadillac as he rounded a curve on a mountain road. He was hauling a propane tank for his camper in the back of the car, and smelled a leak. Rather than pull over and deal with it as a rational person would, the hopped-up Cash dove from the moving car. It crashed into a tree and exploded; the ensuing fireball singed Cash’s face and sent him to hospital with superficial but scary burns.

The second anecdote involved Cash, again under the influence of illicit drugs, tearing through the desert in an old Army Jeep he had bought. He was ostensibly headed out for a solo camping trip, but got so loopy that he lost control of the truck as he drove down a mountainside and wound up barreling out of control through the dunes. In this instance, too, Cash crashed his vehicle into a tree. (A mesquite, maybe? What kind of tree grows in the desert?) He was in it this time, though he wasn’t injured in any significant way.

Both of these scenes would allow Wopat to use the stunt-driving skills he honed during his Dukes of Hazzard days. They would also present a unique showcase for his acting chops, as they could be played for equal parts comedy and tragedy—visually, they could be very, very funny if done right, while Wopat/Cash’s realization of how his drug use is starting to affect his life could be the stuff of an awards show highlight reel.

Photo credit: mrflip via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Comedy, Musicals, Television

Tom Wopat in: Flight of the Conchords

as: World Music Jam MC

Flight of the Conchords was one of HBO’s funniest shows, and though it lasted just two seasons (at the insistence of its stars/creators, not due to poor ratings), it left a lasting impression on many viewers thanks to its brilliantly funny songs and dry yet surreal sense of humor. And, it paved way for Bret McKenzie, one half of the titular duo, to win an Academy Award for his songwriting in The Muppets.

conchords

In the tenth episode of the show’s first season, “New Fans,” the Conchords perform at a “World Music Jam.” The host and MC of said jam is Daryl Hall of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Hall & Oates. It’s a small and fairly insignificant role, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t benefit from Wopatization.

Key Changes

It’s never pointed out in “New Fans” that it is, in fact, Hall as the MC. He’s essentially playing himself, but no one ever says, “Hey, it’s Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates,” and, in fact, this viewer had to check the end credits to be sure it was him. Part of the brilliance of the cameo is that it’s just so random.

Having Tom Wopat in the role would arguably be even more random, and therefore funnier. After all, Daryl Hall is primarily known for his musical career, so it makes some sense that he’d be hosting a mini-music festival, low-rent though it may be. Wopat is known mostly as an actor, of course, so his appearance would seem totally out of left field. “Wait, why is Luke Duke there?”

After his brief appearance at the World Music Jam, in which he quickly ushers Flight of the Conchords offstage after just a few notes of their first song, Hall’s MC is never seen again. However, with Wopat’s far more considerable acting chops, we think that the role could’ve expanded. Later in the episode, the band’s new fans (hence the episode title) try to convince Bret and Jermaine to partake in some typically rock and roll bedroom shenanigans, which the guys refuse.

In our Wopatized version of the ‘sode, the Conchords would find out that Tom Wopat took the ladies up on the offer their stead. Some sort of humorous cutaway gag  would be involved there, but we’re not comedy writers, so you’ll have to use your imagination on that one.

Photo credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge via Foter.com / CC BY

Classics, Comedy, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: This is Spinal Tap

as: David St. Hubbins

This is Spinal Tap is the greatest movie ever made about rock and roll. The titular band is one huge, perfectly executed pastiche of ‘70s and ‘80s rock star excess, hubris, and stupidity, and the mockumentary format is so well done that, upon the film’s release in 1984, many viewers left theaters believing that Spinal Tap was a real band.

Spinal Tap

As that band, actors Christopher Guest (as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel), Harry Shearer (as bassist Derek Smalls), and Michael McKean (as singer/guitarist David St. Hubbins) work cinematic magic, playing dumb like only true geniuses can. However, nigh perfect though the main cast is, there’s no reason it couldn’t be improved. And if you know anything about this stupid blog of ours, you know what’s coming next…

Why Wopat?

Like McKean, Tom Wopat is a talented musician in addition to his acting skills. Both play guitar more than well enough for the purposes of the film, so there would be no decline in musical quality. (Despite having some of the [intentionally] stupidest lyrics in rock music history, all the songs played in Spinal Tap are performed exceptionally well, which makes the whole affair that much more convincing.)

The main advantage of having Wopat in the role of David St. Hubbins is an aesthetic one—not to say that McKean is some kind of hideous CHUD or anything, but few would deny that Wopat is the far better looking actor. And, playing as Spinal Tap does into every rock and roll stereotype, having the lead singer be the good looking one in the band—and him dang well knowing it—would open up numerous other avenues for parody.

There’s a scene in Almost Famous (the second greatest movie ever made about rock and roll) where Stillwater lead singer Jeff Beebe (played by Jason Lee) angrily tells guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), “Your [good] looks have become a problem!”

A similar sentiment would fit perfectly in the dysfunctional musical brotherhood of Spinal Tap. We envision a running joke throughout the film that has Tufnel repeatedly referencing St. Hubbins’ good looks as a way to solve any problem. It would start out innocently enough, with Wopat St. Hubbins successfully using his handsomeness and charm to get the band preferential treatment from a female concert promoter. By the end of the film, after numerous iterations of the ploy provide diminishing returns, and it eventually stops working altogether, Tufnel would state something to the effect of, “Why don’t you just handsome your way through this one, mate?”

This would have led to the inclusion of a song on the fake band’s real follow up album, Break Like the Wind, titled “Handsome My Way Through.” In our heads, we hear the track being a faux-inspirational, take-the-bull-by-the-horns-and-persevere rock ballad which ultimately places all the credit for the singer/narrator’s success on his good looks.

Photo credit: 7th Street Theatre via Source / CC BY

Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: Whiplash

as: Terence Fletcher

If you love movies or music or both, you must see Whiplash. Even if you’ve already seen it, go watch it again. It’s a real corker! Without a doubt, the best part of the film is J.K. Simmons’ masterful performance as Terence Fletcher, the maniacal, unhinged jazz ensemble leader. Simmons should’ve gotten two Oscars for the role, he’s so good.

drums

That said, however: Tom Wopat could’ve and would’ve been better as Fletcher. Simmons killed it, for sure, but Wopat would’ve killed it, brought it back to life, and killed it again.

Key Changes

The one thing about Whiplash that struck me as odd is that Fletcher, the hard-driving, perfectionist music teacher, is not shown performing any music himself until the end of the film. And, even then, it’s only for a few fleeting seconds. From what I can tell, Simmons was genuinely playing in his performance scene, but it’s nothing terrible impressive. (Which, I suppose, is the point—“those who can’t do, teach” as they say. Though Fletcher takes it a little far with the “making up for my own shortcomings” thing. Anyways…)

With Wopat, an accomplished musician in his own right, in the role, we would add more scenes of Fletcher playing, here and there. The protagonist, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller), would come across Fletcher playing solo acoustic jazz guitar (as Wopat is a talented guitarist)—really, really well—in an empty studio at the music conservatory where most of the story takes place. Amazed by his teacher’s skill, Neiman would be inspired to practice harder to try and match his skill (though Andrew is a drummer). This would, of course, be on top of the other “motivational” methods Fletcher employs to get the best out of his students.

Personally, I think this would make Fletcher an even more intimidating figure. It’s one thing to have a lunatic band teacher yell at you to do better; to have a lunatic band teacher that you know is a genius player himself yelling at you would be even worse. Like, “Dang, this dude really does know his stuff. I better play my @$$ off if I’m going to impress him even a little bit.” It would be akin to having Lebron James as your basketball coach: “How am I ever going to be good enough to meet those high standards?”

In all honesty, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving a better performance than J.K. Simmons did in Whiplash. It’s one of the finest cinematic performances of the 21st century, if not of all time. Still, can’t go wrong with Wopat, amirite?

Photo credit: jacksonpe via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Comedy, Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: High Fidelity

as: Barry

This was a tough one to figure out. We imagined that Tom Wopat would be a wonderful addition to the cast of 2000’s High Fidelity, but struggled with which role would be best for his talents. Initially, we had him taking over for John Cusack as Rob Gordon, the film’s protagonist, but ultimately decided that he’d be better in a smaller, but no less memorable role: Barry, originally portrayed by Jack Black.

Arranged autobiographically.

Arranged autobiographically.

Key Changes

In High Fidelity, Barry is a snarky music snob working at the Championship Vinyl record store owned and operated by Cusack’s character. Black turns in a brilliant, breakout performance, but we feel that Tom Wopat could’ve had the same effect. His Barry would be older, and ostensibly wiser, but no less of a jackass to any customer he feels in unworthy of spending time at the shop.

Wopat is about 15 years older than Cusack (18 years older than Black), so his Barry would be more attuned to the classics and oldies than Rob. He’d still be a know-it-all about every style, genre, and era of music, but would pepper his Top Five lists (a recurring preoccupation for Championship’s employees) with older references, both as legitimate choices and for comedic effect.

Barry Wopat’s age would be the butt of some good-natured ribbing from his co-workers, as well. In the original version of the film, Barry is shown to have a fondness for vintage clothes. With the older Wopat in the role, the clothes could remain the same, but they wouldn’t be “vintage” so much as “still wearing them from the first time around.” Upon receiving a compliment from a customer on his sweet “retro” threads, he would be deflated by an “Everything old is new again, right, Barry?” from Rob. Another customer, searching for an obscure “original recording” by Lead Belly (or some other long-dead artist), would be sent in Barry’s direction: “He’s just the guy to help you out. Barry and Lead Belly went to high school together.”

One aspect of the character that wouldn’t need to be changed is his spectacular singing voice. At the end of the film, Barry performs Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” with Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, his newly-renamed band (formerly Sonic Death Monkey). Rob, and everyone else at the show, expect Barry to be terrible. Instead, he blows doors down, with Jack Black providing his own vocals in the film. Tom Wopat is no stranger to singing and musical performance, and would be more than able to tackle the classic Motown track.

Photo credit: jaztuck3000 via StoolsFair / CC BY

Comedy, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: Empire Records

as: Joe Reaves

Way back in Nineteen-Hundred and Ninety-Five, a little flick called Empire Records was released to almost zero fanfare and minimal box office receipts. The coming-of-age comedy, set in and around an independent record store in Delaware, went over like a lead balloon in theaters. It wasn’t long, however, before it found success on home video and grew into a minor cult classic.

In reading the recently-compiled oral history of the film, it becomes apparent that Empire Records was severely mishandled by the studio behind it, which severely hampered the film’s chances for success . If there was somehow a mulligan on the making of Empire Records, we have one suggestion that would have all but guaranteed blockbuster status: put Tom Wopat in it.

Why Not Wopat?

In Empire Records, Joe Reaves is the titular record store’s manager, and a reluctant but loveable father figure for the younger members of the staff, who are mostly in their late teens or early twenties. Joe’s a gruff but genuinely cooler older dude, sporting a motorcycle jacket and an earring that, somehow, does not look ridiculous on a guy in his early forties.

Joe is nothing if not a working man.

Joe is nothing if not a working man.

Joe is portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, and while LaPaglia does a great job, Wopat would have been even better. Little to nothing about the film would actually have to be changed with Wopat in the role, so this will be a fairly easy Wopatization to write up, although likely boring to read. (Sorry.) The two actors are roughly the same age, and actually look quite a bit alike. Not even the cinematography would have to be altered.

Key Scenes

Key Scene #1

Midway through the film, Joe, fed up with the day’s unfortunate shenanigans, stalks through the store and back to his office. There, to blow off some steam, he sits down at a drum kit and pounds the skins along with AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”. Tom Wopat is a noted musician, but his axe of choice is the ol’ six string. Ergo, Joe’s stress relieving jam session would see him shredding on the guitar, matching Angus Young note for note. Maybe throw in a little bit of duck walk.

Key Scene #2

Later, the belligerent shoplifter known only as “Warren Beatty” fulfills his promise from earlier in the film: “I’ll be back, and you’ll be sorry!” Warren shows up with a gun—loaded with blanks, unbeknownst to Empire Records’ employees—and starts wreaking havoc. In the original film, Warren is “talked down” by Lucas, the wayward employee who set the events of the film in motion, and ultimately offered a job at the store by Joe.

In the Wopatized version, things go a little differently. Lucas distracts Warren with essentially the same speech he uses in the original, while Joe Wopat sneaks up on the duo, concealing himself behind the store’s copious retail display cases. As Lucas concludes his monologue, Joe Wopat bursts from his hiding place and delivers a Luke Duke-esque flying kick that knocks the pistol from Warren’s hand and sends the young punk tumbling to the floor. Joe, Lucas, and the rest of the Empire Records crew then proceed to kick the stuffing out of Warren, only stopping when the police arrive to haul the juvenile delinquent away.

Photo credit: Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis via Foter.com / CC BY

Classics, Comedy, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: Wayne’s World (the Movie)

In the first installment of the Wayne’s World trilogy, Benjamin Kane is the closest thing to a villain that Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) encounter. He attempts to cash in on the success of the “Wayne’s World” show-within-the-movie and turn it into a forum for cheap sponsorship for his advertising clients. In the end, “Bunjamin” gets his comeuppance, Wayne gets the girl, and “Wayne’s World” is restored to its original, low budget but well-loved format.

Originally, the would-be TV producer and all around jerk is played with a nigh perfect balance of sleaze and charm by Rob Lowe. But we propose that with Tom Wopat as Kane, an even better, truly perfect balance would have been struck, and Wayne’s World would’ve been all the better for it.

mirth mobile

“To the Mirth Mobile!”

Key Changes

One thing to note is that Tom Wopat is about a dozen years older than Rob Lowe. However, when the film was released in 1992, Wopat was only 41, so it’s not really an issue. It’s never really specified how old Kane is supposed to be, and Hollywood plays young all the time (every movie or TV series set in high school features at least one actor in his or her 30s playing a teenager, it seems).

Over the course of Wayne’s World, it is made rather obvious that Benjamin Kane owes a good portion of his success to his good looks. And, there’s no doubt that Lowe is a handsome fellow. But put him and Tom Wopat side by side, and they look like they could be brothers—Wopat being the better looking one. If anything, with Wopat in the role, there would’ve been even more room for “skating by on his looks” gags.

With Wopat’s real-life guitar playing experience, the writers could’ve added a scene where Benjamin and Wayne square off in a friendly “guitar duel.” Wayne, the would-be metalhead and guitar hero, would bust out a monster solo, contorting his face into all manner of goofy “solo faces” and finishing with the “out of breath” physical comedy bit that Myers does so well. Kane/Wopat would then pick up Wayne’s guitar and, casually and easily, knock out a killer guitar line that puts Wayne’s playing to shame, all with Wopat’s face and hands in frame the whole time. Kane doesn’t break a sweat, and Wayne is completely befuddled.

And finally, with Wopat’s Dukes of Hazzard past and Wayne’s World’s fondness for spoofing pop culture, one of the movie’s “fake endings” could’ve included a chase scene in which Wayne and Garth, in their AMC Pacer (the “Mirth Mobile”), escape Kane and his suspiciously familiar orange 1969 Dodge Charger. Turning the Dukes’ convention on its ear, the Mirth Mobile would’ve been the car to make the climactic, slow-motion jump to safety, while the General Lee careens off the road and into the river.

Photo credit: GmanViz via RemodelHackers / CC BY-NC-ND

Classics, Comedy, Musicals, Science Fiction and/or Fantasy

Tom Wopat in: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

as: Rufus

1988’s Bill & Ted Excellent Adventure is one hell of a weird movie: two high school metalheads are given a time-traveling phone booth to help them pass a history test—if they fail, the future of civilization will be in serious jeopardy. If that sounds like a pretty dumb premise, that’s because it is. It’s also hilarious and brilliantly executed and acted (with Keanu Reeves basically playing what is now the public’s perception of his IRL persona). It also features an ingenious—and paradox free!—time-travel workaround by the heroes that ultimately saves the day.

The San Francisco Giants know what's up.

The San Francisco Giants know what’s up.

In the film, the late, great George Carlin plays Rufus, a somewhat mysterious mentor from the future who was sent back in time to set Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan off on their excellent adventure. Reportedly, the producers were originally considering “serious” actors for the role, such as Sean Connery, until someone jokingly suggested Carlin. The legendary comedian was offered the part, accepted, and the rest is history.

But what if Carlin had turned them down? What if, instead, they chose Tom Wopat, the greatest actor of this or any time period?

Key Changes

Though Tom Wopat has worked on sitcoms—The Dukes of Hazzard was a pretty funny show sometimes, too—he can’t compete with George Carlin in the humor department. As such, the Rufus character would likely have leaned more toward the serious tone the writers originally intended. Wopat’s got dramatic chops for days. (Though, in a movie where Napoleon Bonaparte goes to a modern SoCal waterslide park, how “serious” could it have been?)

Another potential change could’ve made the film’s emphasis on the importance of music in the future more pronounced. In Excellent Adventure’s denouement, Rufus presents Bill and Ted with shiny new guitars. Before handing them over, though, he shreds a blistering solo on one of the guitars. In the film, the guitar solo-ing hands are not Carlin’s, but rather those of Stevie Salas, an accomplished studio musician and film score composer (who, not coincidentally, wrote the score for this movie). Wopat can sling a mean ax in his own right, and therefore could likely have performed the solo himself in a single shot. The added authenticity would’ve gone a long way, in our opinion, and added to the mystique of the future seen briefly in the film. Why is Rufus, ostensibly just a messenger, so good on guitar? Is everyone in the future an excellent musician? Just how does one “be excellent” to another?

Our third picked nit is strictly aesthetic. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, George Carlin appears essentially as he always did in the late 1980s (except for the costumes). He wears his same usual beard and keeps his long hair in a ponytail. There’s nothing wrong with this look, of course, and it certainly served Carlin well for a number of years. However, in that briefly-glimpsed future mentioned above, all the other actors are sporting futuristic, yet distinctly ‘80s, hairdos (or are they distinctly ‘80s, yet futuristic, hairdos?) along with their sparkly costumes. Tom Wopat, with his glorious flowing mane, could’ve been given one of the greatest future-’80s/’80s-future hairstyles in motion picture history. And so, great opportunity was lost…

Photo credit: E Steuer via StoolsFair / CC BY

Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: I’m Not There

as: Billy the Kid (a.k.a. “Bob Dylan”)

The 2007 sort of-biopic I’m Not There opens with a caption reading, “Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan.” To that end, six different actors portray Dylan in different guises that represent the different stages of the musician’s long and storied career. Each of the assorted thespians delivers a fine performance, and the overall result is an intriguing if uneven film that ultimately seems like the closest anyone outside Dylan’s circle will ever get to “knowing” the notoriously elusive singer-songwriter.

Among the half-dozen actors playing “Bob Dylan” are Oscar winners Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett. (Yes, a woman plays Bob Dylan, and she turns in perhaps the best portrayal of the bunch.) Another is Richard Gere. If any member of the main cast of this flick is replaceable, it’s him.

We’ve already suggested that Tom Wopat take Dylan’s place in another film involving Billy the Kid. It seems pretty logical that Wopat play the “Billy the Kid” version of Dylan here.

The Times They Are A-Changin' 1

Why Not Wopat?

Tom Wopat is two years younger than Richard Gere, so not much would change in that respect: this “Billy the Kid” would still be an older, wiser, wizened version of Dylan, still the aged outlaw. And we already know that Wopat looks dang good in Western-style attire, so not even the costumes would’ve needed changing.

As he’s searching for his dog Henry, and meets up with a friend named Homer, it’s clear that Billy the Kid is meant to represent Basement Tapes-era Dylan. (“Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and “Open the Door, Homer” being two tracks off that landmark album.) Ergo, it’s only fitting that another Basement Tapes song, “Goin’ to Acapulco” is performed during this part of the film. The song’s jangling acoustic guitars and ragged vocals make it a perfect fit for the Old West-esque setting, as well.

However, there is one glaring problem: it’s not Billy the Kid singing the song. There’s probably a good reason Jim James of My Morning Jacket sings “Goin’ to Acapulco” instead of Gere, but it would likely have been a more powerful and memorable moment in the film if the Dylan character sang it himself. As such, Tom Wopat would be ideal.

Wopat has released something like ten albums in his career, in styles ranging from rock ‘n’ roll to country-western to classic pop standards. Dylan himself has famously made a number of stylistic shifts throughout his recording career. The two make a good match by that metric. Plus, Wopat can play guitar, something that it seems like any cinematic portrayal of Bob Dylan should do. Gere doesn’t so much as touch an instrument of any kind in his segment of I’m Not There. (Poser.)

Also: while they don’t exactly look alike, there’s a much closer resemblance between Wopat and Dylan than there is between Dylan and Gere.

Photo credit: irishindeed via Instagram