The polls may be long closed, but I’ve got a new candidate I’m endorsing – Idris Elba. The position – as Otis Redding.
Before I even get into my whole reasoning for that or what that even means, I have to talk about the man himself, Otis Redding. To me, and most others, Otis Redding is the best male soul singer to have ever lived. If you combined the smoothness of Al Green and the soul of Wilson Pickett, you still wouldn’t be able to fill his shoes. No one sang a love song like Redding. I’ve watched videos of his live performances and have listened to him countless times on the radio, iTunes and Pandora. If hearing this man sing “I’ve Been Loving You” or “These Arms of Mine” doesn’t evoke some sort of emotion inside, then you were born without a heart. When I listen to Otis Redding, I feel like I’m reading a page from his diary. I don’t know where all of his songs came from or what inspired them, but if Otis sang it you can bet you’re gonna believe every word he said.
Growing up, Otis Redding was simply known to me as the guy who sang “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay.” Whenever I was in the car with my father the only music that played was oldies. And “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay” was one of the more popular songs that got a lot of air time. But back then, Redding was just a singer to me. He was one of the many played on 101.1 CBSFM. I didn’t differentiate him from other Motown (by Motown I mean the more-commonly-referred-to music genre not the label) artists like Smokey Robinson, Al Green or Sam Cooke. I couldn’t. At that age (before my teens), I hadn’t yet grown an appreciation for the artists themselves. I liked the songs a lot, but didn’t have the ability to listen to them and identify the person singing just within the first few lyrics.
As I grew, however, and started to actually appreciate and even follow my father’s taste in music my ears fine tuned. I started to really enjoy listening to Motown, Golden Oldies, Doowop and Soul. As a teenager I remember anxiously awaiting a song to come on the radio, so I could simultaneously press the record button on my tape deck with the start of the song. But it wasn’t until the last 5-7 years that I really began to seek out specific artists and tracks. With the introduction of iTunes, the iPod, Pandora and Grooveshark, I could summon any song by any artist whenever I wanted. And that’s where my music collection began. My playlist is not huge by any means and I won’t pretend like I have every Otis Redding song ever recorded. But when I realized that I could purchase his songs and listen to them over and over, I started and never stopped doing just that.
Most of the Redding songs I downloaded were hits, though many of them I had heard only once or never at all. But then a funny thing started happening. The more I listened to these same songs, the more cognizant I became that I had heard them somewhere else — not on the radio, but in movies.
Pretty in Pink was the first ‘aha’ moment I had. I was watching the movie one day, when, in the book store scene with Annie Potts and Jon Cryer, “Try a Little Tenderness” starts playing. I can almost recall the little pang of excitement and satisfaction I got knowing that my aural intuition had proven right. That ‘momentous’ event happened a few years back, but just within the last year or so I made another discovery. “Love Man” was featured in Dirty Dancing. It’s in the part where Jennifer Grey is getting her first taste of the gritty dancing moves with Patrick Swayze. And I think the context in which the song was used, a sexually charged scene, kind of changed my perception of Otis Redding. Though long gone, I started to view him more as a sex symbol or better, a sexy, soulful music icon. And now, when I watch his live performances, I really do see what a heartthrob he was. His voice can almost be described as entrancing. When he sang he oozed sultriness, smoothness and confidence.
Which, evidently, provides the perfect segue into Idris Elba (born Idrissa Akuna “Idris” Elba). Have you ever looked at him, really studied his features and mannerisms when he’s acting? Maybe not if you’re a man. And chances are the things I’m referring about are more perceived by women. Yet, if you’re reading this and you are struck by curiosity of what I’m referring to, Google his name and look at the photos. Does he not have a resemblance to a famous soul singer with the initials O.R.?
You may not recognize his name (possibly b/c he’s an English actor) but I’m pretty sure you’ll know his face (see below for those of you who didn’t Google him). What prompted me to even start writing this entry was that I had just recently watched the movie Daddy’s Little Girls. Not an A caliber movie, but I was really impressed with his acting. I honestly thought he was quite believable as a grief-stricken father separated from his 3 daughters against his will. I had seen him in Rock n Rolla, which I thought he was great in. And I tried my best to watch him in the Beyonce/Ali Larter movie Obsessed (he was actually the only reason to watch it). Not only does he look like Otis Redding, but he exudes the the same sex appeal just like the late singer. Both being strong men who still have a soft side to them and are not afraid to show it.
So what does this all mean? Well, you have a good actor established in his own right but not yet a household name (though he’s in the soon-to-be released film Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott, and has been speculated to possibly be the next James Bond) that, in my opinion, strongly resembles one of the greatest soul singers of our time whose life was tragically cut short in a plane crash. This to me sounds like a movie with box office hit written all over it. But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at some past biographical movies of famous musicians, male and female. Though before I even list them I can tell you that every single one of these movies received critical acclaim. It either catapulted the lead actor into stardom or cemented their status; or was nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes or Cannes. In many cases, both. And in some cases, they even won.
listed in order of release
(1968) Funny Girl: Barbra Streisand as Fannie Brice
(1978) The Buddy Holly Story: Gary Busey as Buddy Holly
(1980) Coal Miner’s Daughter: Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn
(1984) Amadeus: Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (and F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri)
(1987) La Bamba: Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens
(1988) Bird: Forest Whitaker as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker
(1991) The Doors: Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison
(1993) What’s Love Got to Do with It: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner
(1997) Selena: Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez
(1999) Introducing Dorothy Dandridge: Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge
(2002) The Pianist: Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
(2004) Ray: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
(2005) Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
(2007) La vie en rose: Marion Cotillard as Édith Pilaf
On a film, makeup artists and costume designers have their job cut out for them when the protagonist is or was an actual person. And much credit is due to the star for giving such a convincing portrayal. Yet it goes without saying that the physical appearance of the actor has much to do with casting selection. Take for example Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, Jennifer Lopez as Selena and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.
All of these actors possessed similar physical traits of the musicians they portrayed, which help solidify them in their role. Bringing me back to my comparison of Idris Elba to Otis Redding.
Both men sing. Even though I can’t really say how successful Elba will be in his singing career, it does help that he’s not completely tone deaf. Both are tall, Elba at approx 6’3″ and Redding at 6’1″, and have big, gregarious smiles. Although Otis Redding died young at 26 and Idris Elba is already 39, Elba could certainly pass for that age. And both, coincidentally, have a tie to Jay-Z. Elba co-produced and performed on the intro to Jay-Z’s 2007 album American Gangster. And Jay-Z, along with Kanye West, pays tribute to Otis Redding in their new song aptly entitled “Otis” with a mashup of sampling from Redding’s hit “Try a Little Tenderness.” Of course that last bit has no bearing on why Elba would make a great Otis Redding, but I thought it was a fun piece of trivia.
As far as I know, there is no Otis Redding film being pitched at this time, nor have I even heard rumors about it. But if by chance Columbia, 20th Century Fox, Paramount or TriStar are looking for new movie ideas – there’s mine.