Sorry, James Dean, you're better off dead than digitally alive

Joel Golby

One thing I am sick of is celebrities who are alive. You see them everywhere, don’t you? Waving in nightclubs; shilling Booty Tea on Instagram; entering then un-entering a poly relationship with Miley Cyrus; developing a billion-dollar makeup line, spraying queues with self-titled perfumes in the lesser of the two London Westfields; collaborating with DJ Khaled. Having flesh on their bones, skin on their flesh; having a traceable pulse at any time in the past 64 years. Sending a tweet to Drake. Entering the Big Brother house. Not being interred in a crypt. The usual alive celebrity past times.

Good, then, that they are bringing James Dean back, that lad you last saw moodily smoking on a film poster Blu-Tacked up in the share kitchen of your student halls in 1999. As announced this week, the digital likeness of Dean has been optioned to co-star as second lead in Finding Jack, a heartwarming dog rescue-cum-war is hell story about the 10,000 military animals abandoned at the end of the Vietnam war and getting one back to the US. A sort of Saving Private Ryan/101 Dalmatians crossover event, then.

“We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean,” says co-director Anton Ernst, apparently without a single person interrupted him saying: ‘Sorry, what?’ I have about 1bn questions, but a relatively tight word count, so we’ll lead with the most important ones first. If you want to discuss any of the further queries, you can probably find my email online.

First: are there literally no other actors alive? Are there literally no other actors alive? Are there literally … no other actors alive? I struggle with the concept that there are no other actors alive, and that two film directors “searched high and low”, considered – I don’t know, citing a random example – every other actor currently alive, and thought: “No, actually, the only one who can pull off the complex character arcs of the second lead of a film about a soldier who loves dogs is the resurrected, computer-generated face of James Dean with a voice by an as-yet unnamed actor.” If I were an actor, who was currently alive, I would be very personally offended by this.

Second: I would pay good money – an astonishing amount of good money – to be in the production meeting when this was first mooted. A load of Los Angeles types, sunglasses on indoors, sliding the comp cards of every actor on earth around on a five-seater table, umming and ahhing and deciding: “No, just none of these people has the right face that says, ‘I love dogs… but in a brooding way.’” And then one person crashes back in from the bathroom with a sudden burst of energy and a huge idea: “What about James Dean? What about James actual Dean?” And everyone in the room bursts into impromptu applause and says: “Yes! Yes! He’s the only man who can do the job. James Dean, James Dean. It has to be James Dean!”

Third: why would you go to the bother of resurrecting the dead – which a number of books, holy and not, have warned us very sternly about – just to get him to play second lead? Not even the lead: second lead? Which actor has the range to perform at a ping-pong ball on a stick, upon which they are going to eventually project the likeness of Dean in post-production, and actually nail the performance? I know that the answer to any complicated fix-it-in-post question is always “Andy Serkis”, but I think even Serkis would struggle with this.

Fourth: did nobody see The Irishman yet? It’s a phenomenally accomplished and expensive film that uses astonishingly cutting-edge CGI technology to de-age Robert De Niro in a way that still cannot hide the fact that he walks like an old man. If they can’t make De Niro move as if he has full prostate control, then I don’t know how they’re going to make Dean – a man who, I have to remind you, is dead – look like he loves dogs and is alive.

And fifth, and now I have actually thought about it: this is phenomenally good. Alive celebrities keep messing up, don’t they? They keep talking about politics or releasing a flop album or dating a lingerie model born in 2000. In the midst of cancel culture, alive people will only let you down. And you know who can’t let you down? You know who can never make negative headlines about their private life in the middle of your film’s promo tour? Someone who got given to the Lord well over half a century ago. Culture can’t cancel James Dean because a Porsche 550 Spyder already did it in the most ultimate way.

This is the future of film, isn’t it? Mark Roesler, the CEO of CMG Worldwide, the company that represents Dean’s family and owns the image rights, also owns the likenesses of Bettie Page, Aaliyah, Christopher Reeve and, all right then, Malcolm X. All my brain can think of when I read that information is “incredibly bad Avengers sequel”. Make it happen, CMG. Show me Malcolm X in Iron Man’s suit, punching Thanos Aaliyah into the moon.

It’s always nice when dads show an interest, but …

TI: a keen advocate of regular gynaecological checkups for young women. Photograph: Prince Williams/Getty Images

I’m a big fan of the concept of “having a normal one”, an internet adjacent term for doing something completely berserk and deranged while maintaining the calm patina of reality – and in that context I am bravely announcing that the rapper TI is this week having The World’s Most Normal One, after the judge on the Netflix show Rhythm + Flow told the podcast Ladies Like Us that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter on yearly trips to the gynaecologist, ostensibly to have her hymen examined to see if it’s still intact.

“Yes, I go with her,” he said, in comments since edited out of the show, because, you know. Weird. “They come and say: ‘Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broken like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding and just other forms of athletic physical activity.’ So I say: ‘Look, doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.’” Please, doctor, my daughter hasn’t ridden a bike in 18 years of existence. She doesn’t even leave the house. Please just tell me if her hymen is OK.

As many people have pointed out, this behaviour borders on abuse, falls into a category of gender-based violence defined as “humiliating and traumatic” by the World Health Organization, and that any doctor complicit in sharing hymen status with someone who guested on Blurred Lines should probably be at least investigated and, at worst, struck off. It is also unutterably bizarre and I cannot believe anyone would confess to it in public.

But then it is TI, isn’t it? This is a man who said, of the 2016 US presidential election, “Not to be sexist but I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman. Just because, every other position that exists, I think a woman could do well. But the president? It’s kinda like, I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally – they make very permanent, cemented decisions – and then later, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen. And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke.” Would definitely be bad if we had an emotional president who constantly flirted with the idea of setting off a nuke, TI, agreed. Anyway: can we get a CGI version of James Dean to do Rhythm + Flow next year, instead? Once again, the dead outwit the alive.