Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was at the forefront of New York’s rough-and-tumble art scene during the ’70s. He rustled many a jimmy with his incendiary photographs of flagrantly controversial material, his most favored subject being human sexuality. The vocally gay man chronicled the underground BDSM culture that was then thriving outside the public eye, and in doing so, shocked the conservative sensibilities of mainstream America. In addition to his notoriety, he cultivated plain-old fame with his noted photographs of celebrities, including the Patti Smith portrait that appears on the cover to her 1975 record Horses. Up until his AIDS-related death at age 42 in 1989, Mapplethorpe was a challenging artistic voice and a champion of all things depraved.
As the subject of innumerable fan-fiction compositions containing unthinkably graphic content, former Doctor Who star Matt Smith is probably also intimately familiar with this territory. So, in a sense, he was the perfect choice for the lead role in Mapplethorpe, a new biopic from Ondi Timoner. Deadline reports that the actor will star in the developing film alongside Girls‘ Zosia Mamet, who will portray the photographer’s close personal friend and erstwhile lover Patti Smith. (Patti Smith memorably wrote about their relationship in the memoir Just Kids.) The timing of this press release does feel a bit strategic, as if Timoner hopes to piggyback on buzz from Sundance for both Mamet (who reportedly shined in the festival premiere of Todd Solondz’s new comedy Wiener-Dog) and Mapplethorpe himself (the upcoming HBO documentary Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures). Mapplethorpe’s life story does hit most of the essential biopic beats: a genius who could see what others couldn’t, embroiled in controversy, with a life that ended in tragic and politically resonant fashion. Timoner’s experience is primarily in documentaries, most notably with the acclaimed Dig! and We Live in Public. But whatever the direct’s background, these roles still afford Smith and Mamet some prime opportunities for capital-A Acting.