Walking in My Shoes: Portraying Dave Gahan in a Movie?
August 8, 2021
Imagine, if you will, that a Depeche Mode biopic is in the works. Also, imagine that you, yourself, are tasked with finding the perfect actor to portray Dave Gahan in the biopic. What kinds of qualities would you look for in such an actor? What activities would you recommend they perform in order to prepare for the part? While there is (sadly) no such biopic currently in the works, it is a fun thought exercise, nevertheless! Thus, in this article, we will lay out 5 qualities that I believe are important to look for.
1. They gotta have the look
We all know that in life, looks aren't everything. But let's be real- in movies and the visual arts in general, looks are incredibly important. If the actor doesn't even remotely resemble the person they are portraying physically, then it really kills the whole vibe, doesn't it? So, in terms of Dave's physical features, what kind of a look does an actor portraying him need to have? Let's get some basics out of the way, first. He would need to be skinny but in shape (he's going to have to be very athletic on stage, which I'll go into later in this article), he would need to be about average height (Dave is 5'11", around the average height of a male in present-day UK), and he would need to be a brunette (though artificially-colored hair is probably fine). He might even need to be of a certain ethnicity, too, though that is always a touchy subject. And should a European or an American actor play him? How much does that matter, if at all? Finally, what other touches will the actor need to be able to complete the look? They will need to have the right hair styles, such as the close-cropped cuts of Dave throughout the '80s, long, shaggy hair in the '90s, and short, choppy styles of the '00s and beyond. They will need the right wardrobe like the short, black leather jacket and white jeans that were arguably the most iconic look for Dave in the '80s, though there are many others. They will also need the tattoos and jewelry which changed over time. And finally, the actor should also be watchful about how he carries himself- how he walks, sits, stands, uses his hands, speaks, etc. Now, speaking of speaking...
2. They gotta have the voice
Portraying a real person in a movie can be a challenge, but that challenge is even more unique when they are a musician. Should it be a requirement for the actor to be a musician, himself, or in this case, a singer? Furthermore, should it be a requirement for the actor portraying Dave to sing just like Dave? And should the actor also be able to speak just like Dave, too? After all, voices can be dubbed, though it would definitely be awkward to dub the actor's voice with another throughout the entire movie. But let's say that the actor is a dead-ringer for Dave physically, speaks just like him, but he cannot sing...then, I honestly think it would be fine to cast him anyway and find someone with a similar or identical singing voice to do the singing parts. Of course that's just adding extra work to find two actors, but that's where my bar is. Anyway, I believe the speaking aspect should also include being able to imitate the accents, inflections, and styles of the person they are portraying. And this can get interesting for the actor playing Dave...depending on what period(s) the movie spans in Depeche Mode's history, this actor would not only need to do a convincing native Essex accent to portray Dave's early days with the band, but he would also need to be able to incorporate more of an American twist to it to stay true to how Dave's accent has actually evolved over time.
3. They gotta have the moves
This is arguably the most important quality on the entire list. The reason for this is that while singing voices can be dubbed, looks can be faked with makeup, prosthetics, AI, etc., a person's movement is a lot harder to conjure up artificially. Sure, perhaps they could use stunt doubles, but it would be a lot better and more convincing if the actor, himself, can authentically mimic all of Dave's movements, especially his stage ones. It's safe to say that they are going to have their work cut out for them in this department. If they can't perfectly mimic every single move, then I would say the most important moves that they would absolutely have to get right is the way Dave spins (with his microphone and without), wiggles his bum, claps, grabs himself, handles his microphone stand, and spontaneously shouts phrases and screams during shows. It's going to take a pretty fit person to be up to this task, and if they become absolutely drenched in sweat and disheveled by the end, all the better as that would be 100% authentic, as well. While those would be the heaviest hitters, we (and the actor) can't forget about the way Dave interacts with the audience, as well, with the way he gets everyone to participate and sing along, calling out individuals with a point of his finger, eyes lighting up, or a goofy smile, and the way he introduces his bandmates like a ringmaster. There are so many of these little things that can add up. It's not only going to take a physically fit person to pull this off well, but they will also need to display a convincing level of charisma, too.
4. They gotta have the personality
This is a tough one. Obviously, it'll be more important than anything for the actor to accurately portray Dave's persona on stage because a good DM biopic should focus more on the music and performances, in my opinion. But of course, if it is going to focus on the personal lives of each band member to some degree, of which Dave's is probably the most fascinating, dramatic, and transferrable to the big screen, then the actor portraying Dave is going to have to be knowledgable and in tune with how he was off stage, as well. They might be able to derive this from personal anecdotes from bandmates, friends, and family close to Dave, but by far the most easily accessible resources will probably be from observing documentaries, studio footage, and interviews. This is where the actor may have some artistic license to do what they want, but there are some key personality traits that they should certainly incorporate. Dave comes across as very talkative, animated, touchy-feely, and emotional overall, all of which could serve as the basis for portraying his personality.
If the movie does take a deep dive into Dave's personal life, though, then the actor could be in for a roller coaster ride depending on how much history is covered. For example, in the very early days of DM, Dave was a far cry from being the confident and charismatic frontman. Back then, he was more like a shy and awkward teen in front of cameras and overly-prodding interviewers, though, slowly but surely he came into his own, all of which the actor should be keen on. Also, huge props should go to the actor if they can accurately recapture iconic moments like Dave's euphoria and subsequent crash shown at the end of 101, the drugged and drunken fog of Dave in the early '90s and subsequent bottoming out, which was then followed by a resurrection of not only physical life but also an overwhelming resurgence of joy, clarity, and wonder which was very palpable in Dave beginning in the late '90s and beyond. In fact, if the movie chose to center on Dave's personal story, then exact moments like that would fit very nicely into the classic Hollywood movie plot structure which consists of an exposition period leading up to a climax and followed by a resolution. It would not even need to go beyond The Singles Tour for that to work, though it would certainly make for a woefully incomplete story. Just as a side note, if I could put my creative 2 cents in, I want the movie to cut to total blackness for 2 full minutes after Dave's drug overdose and see how people react, just to give everyone an idea of how significant a 2-minute heart-stopping blackout really is. Maybe they could include sound effects like from a heart monitor or AED, EMTs frantically shouting and talking, friends and fans' voices calling his name from afar, and surreal elements like that. Or maybe they could play a whole DM song- "Death's Door" being most fitting here. It could serve as a grim intermission of sorts which would then inevitably lead into a much more uplifting and triumphant second part of the movie. Theatrically, it sounds poignant, but it probably wouldn't go over well practically, so it's just an idea. Anyway, Dave's personality, not only on stage but also off, as well as how it has sort of evolved over time is another area in which the actor is going to have his work cut out for him.
5. They gotta have the brains (to do research)
I touched on a little of this already in the previous point; basically, any sane actor worth their salt is going to do research on the person they are portraying in order to get an idea of how that person moves, talks, and lives their life. So, if doing research is already a given, here's a question: What exactly should the actor use as research material? Let's say that they only have a very short amount of time to read up on or watch material on Dave. What books, videos, or articles would you recommend they get their hands on? As far as musical performances, I would probably recommend DM staples like 101, The World We Live In and Live in Hamburg, and Devotional as the top 3. Then, for an even closer look into his persona off stage, I'd probably recommend TV interviews and studio footage, of which there are plenty on YouTube, as well as the gold mine of footage on the DVD documentaries that came with the 2007 album remasters. Finally, here's another question: If the actor could take things further, such as actually spend time with Dave in person and/or people who know him, or immerse themselves in places and experiences specific to Dave, how important is all of that compared to the other material above? To be honest, I would consider this to be icing on the cake as opposed to essential, but it really depends on how deep the biopic delves into Dave's personal life.
Bonus: Potential Players
Of course nobody...absolutely nobody could replace the real thing, but since this article has gone through the thought exercise of what it would be like if a Dave Gahan look-alike portrayed him in a movie, we have to wonder if there is anybody out there already who has the potential to play him. In this bonus section, we take a look at a few actors who have (or once had) the potential to play Dave.
I used to hear this guy being constantly touted as a Dave Gahan look-alike almost everywhere on the internet, and to be honest, it was not a bad comparison, at the time. In the late 2000s, Shia was pretty big, starring in blockbusters like Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There is even a (very loose) connection between him and Dave in that Shia once starred in a music video by Icelandic band, Sigur Rós. If you remember their producer, Ken Thomas, also produced Paper Monsters. Unfortunately, Shia may no longer be a viable candidate for the role as he has been involved in several public controversies as of late and is also dealing with some personal issues. As such, he is currently taking a break from acting.
Shia would've been a good fit ten or so years ago. Now? Not so much.
I also used to hear this guy being mentioned as a possible Dave Gahan look-alike, too. Back in the late 2000s, Michael was pretty much typecasted into the role of the shy, awkward teen in movies like Superbad and Juno, so it was very difficult to picture him playing any sort of famous musician, much less a frontman (though he probably could've nailed an early-DM Dave pretty well). But later on, he began landing more diverse roles, such as that of a lazy musician(!) in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a marijuana dealer in Hits, and becoming a stage actor and producer. And speaking of being a musician, Michael does play- the bass guitar, in fact, and he can sing, too. However, neither his singing nor speaking voice sound anything remotely like Dave's.
Surprisingly, Michael is looking to be a better fit now than he was in the past. His voice is a deal-breaker, though.
Ted Jan (T.J.) Roberts
I admit, this is entirely my own choosing. I'm probably dating myself a bit by saying this, but the role that I remember him best was as Prince Dex in the Masked Rider television series. For some reason, I can't get the idea out of my head that he would've been a pretty good fit to play Dave if a DM biopic had been made in the 1990s- in particular, I think he looked a lot like Construction Time Again-era Dave. In addition to acting, T.J. was also a stuntman and martial artist, so he would've had the athletic chops to play Dave on stage; his speaking voice is a little bit more thin-sounding than Dave's, though, and I have no idea if he can actually sing.
T.J. would've been a good fit in the 1990s. Not at all now, though.
So, while the first 3 candidates may have some promising potential to do Dave justice in a DM biopic, the unfortunate problem that they all have is that they are now in the wrong age range to even be considered anymore! Not so with this actor, Finn Wolfhard, who is currently 18 years old...If a DM movie were to be made anytime within the next 10 years, I would say that Finn is among the most promising well-known actor out of all of them who could potentially play Dave. He is best-known for paying homage to '80s tropes and playing kid and teen roles in horror films, most notably as the smart and loyal Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things and he is set to star in the upcoming Ghostbusters movie, but did you know that he is also a musician and singer? Here is a video of him performing with his band, The Aubreys. Even though the style of music is drastically different from DM's, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if Finn took on that style, and he does have a pretty good voice; training him to sing like Dave is doable, methinks! Anyway, admittedly, he seems pretty far from being Dave's doppelganger physically, and it's hard to imagine him in anything but horror and adventure movies (or with super-short hair, for that matter!), but, just like our Dave, Finn has some serious rockstar vibes and is a versatile style chameleon who can pull off many drastically different looks very well.
Finn is a very promising candidate, but we'll just have to wait and see where his acting career takes him.
So, what do you think are the most important qualities for an actor to have in order to portray Dave in a movie? What do you think a DM biopic should cover, in terms of timelines, events, and on the band members lives, themselves? And finally, who do you think would be the perfect fit for portraying Dave or any other band members? Please comment below!