A couple weekends ago, word got out that an upcoming Ramones biopic would be helmed by one of America’s greatest living filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. The movie would be one of several band-related projects slated for 2016, the 40th anniversary of the bruddas’ debut album, Ramones.
Scorsese isn’t that odd a choice to direct a film about the groundbreaking punk band. He’s a New Yorker who loves music, and directed The Last Waltz and Shine a Light. He also knows what to do with a good story. Like The Wolf of Wall Street or Raging Bull, the tale of the Ramones is a fascinating one, filled with underdogs, victors, losers, users, lovers, betrayers and a litany of insecure gods.
Anyone who loves the band should trust in Scorsese’s brilliance. That said, the first thing I messaged to my old friend Nels, a die-hard and lifelong Ramones fan, was something about “Joe Pesci as Dee Dee and DeNiro as Joey.”
Scorsese has his favorites, but it’s hard to see where a Leonardo DiCaprio or Harvey Keitel fits in a movie like this. So here are my suggestions to Marty (what the sexy people call him), with an assist from Nels, for some casting choices:
Diego Boneta as Arturo Vega, a.k.a. “The Fifth Ramone”
Vega was the art director for the band and creator of the iconic Ramones logo. You know, the one kids today wear although they don’t know who the Ramones were; that’s how cool and everlasting and worthy of a serious film the band is. Once Scorsese’s movie is released, they’ve got no excuse for not brushing up on their music history.
I met Arturo Vega once on one of Warped Tour’s runs, and he was incredibly nice to anyone who approached him. Some folks marveled that he’d hardly ever missed a Ramones show (reportedly, he only missed two of more than 2,000) or that he dreamt up a work of art at least a handful of kids were wearing that afternoon. He seemed modest about it all, though he has a place in Ramones history. Hopefully he will be recognized in Scorsese’s film.
Boneta is a Mexican actor seen in the TV show Pretty Little Liars and was one of the stars of the film adaptation of Rock of Ages.
Ezra Miller as Tommy Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone
With Scorsese in the director’s chair, we can all hope for a version of the Ramones’ story filled with the pathos it deserves. He can tab fine actors to move us beyond the caricatures of the Ramones we’ve seen in films before, like CBGB or the band’s own onscreen turn in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
Miller may not have an abundance of roles behind him, but he has one in particular that makes him an exciting choice to play Erdelyi, the band’s manager-turned-drummer-turned-producer. He was the creepy kid in We Need to Talk About Kevin. He was also pretty great in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Shia LaBeouf as Douglas Colvin, a.k.a. Dee Dee Ramone
LaBeouf is roundly hated for questionable off-screen acts. He doesn’t really look like Dee Dee, my favorite Ramone of all. But, he’s a good actor with an edge about him that Scorsese could possibly craft into a great performance. He could do a convincing druggie, and he’ll have to, since Dee Dee took in more chemicals than a bug after a cropdusting.
The scriptwriter of Scorsese’s choice would be advised to start with Dee Dee’s 2000 memoir of the band, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones. Whoever winds up onscreen counting the band off on bass should also do themselves a favor by finding a copy and getting into Dee Dee’s shaggy head.
Emma Stone as Linda Ramone
Linda Ramone is Johnny Ramone’s widow and an overseer of the band’s estate, now that all the principal founding members have died. She will fill an integral role in this and future Ramones projects, just as she did when the band was still churning out records and doing their high-energy, under-an-hour live sets.
I’ll see anything with Emma Stone in it and so will most of you, judging by her popularity. She’s got the red-headed, doe-eyed beauty that both Joey and Johnny saw in Linda, creating the sort of acrimonious triangle that spurred no less than “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” Every serious film needs conflict, some inner battle that we can all relate to, and Stone as centerpiece of one of the Ramones’ biggest challenges would be a thrilling choice.
Adam Driver as Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone
“Looks-wise, you got to go with Adam Driver for Joey,” my friend Nels suggested.
I wasn’t that familiar with Driver’s work, but a glance at his IMDb page indicates he’s more than just a doppelganger for the Ramones’ stork-like front man. Driver’s latest film, This Is Where I Leave You, has him trading lines with Jane Fonda. Best-known for his work as Lena Dunham’s a-hole boyfriend on HBO’s Girls, he’ll appear in Star Wars: Episode VII next year. It might be exciting to see what Scorsese could draw from this versatile young actor.
There’s plenty for Driver to tap into with Hyman, who was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder early in life and battled lymphoma for years before succumbing to it in 2001. In between, he became a role model for outsiders everywhere, our favorite awkward rock star. He wrote sensitive, honest lyrics and if he was truly shy, as some suggest, he found confidence in his place at front and center of a rock and roll band and gave countless others the idea that they could do that, too.
Jack Gleeson as John Cummings, a.k.a. Johnny Ramone
Yep, King Joffrey.
I’m going to assume the actor portraying the Ramones’ undisputed bandleader will have the best material to work with, and Gleeson’s Game of Thrones has shown that he has the intensity and range needed to bring a complex character like Johnny Ramone to life. Part brother, part Svengali, Johnny’s character will drive the story, just as it drove the band.
One thing that could deter casting directors from choosing Gleeson is his boyish looks. That’ll be fine for the early Ramones scenes. But, Scorsese’s known for epic films that span decades on celluloid and hours in the theater, so makeup artists will have their work cut out for them to age Johnny into his fifties.
These actors are all excellent talents. But whoever is chosen will be in the hands of the man who brought us Taxi Driver, The Departed and Mean Streets. They’re sure to bring the Ramones back to life, if only for a couple of hours. But, there will never be anything like the real thing.