ByCraig Whyel, writer at
Film & TV news, previews and commentary
Craig Whyel

The recent announcement that filmmaker/musician Rob Zombie will direct the new Groucho Marx biopic garnered plenty of attention.

More unusual than Mr. Zombie’s attachment to the pending production was the lack of mention as to who might play the late, great comedian.

Pretty important, don’t you think?

Before offering my thoughts on prospective casting choices, it is important to mention that the new film is based on the book, “Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho’s House.” Author Steve Stoliar served as a personal secretary for the comedian for three years before Marx died in 1977.

The book, according to covers plenty of bizarre ground…Mr. Zombie’s comfort zone…involving Groucho’s personal and professional relationship with the late Erin Fleming, a former Canadian actress.

Controversy was plentiful surrounding the two. Ms. Fleming tried giving Groucho’s career a reboot, despite his being in poor health and in his late eighties.

Eventually, Ms. Fleming was court-ordered to pay back hundreds of thousands to the Marx estate.

She wound up homeless and committed suicide in 2003.

Look for more of this sort of Groucho.
Look for more of this sort of Groucho.

So it appears that a “rags to riches” inspirational tale is out of the question where this film is concerned. Instead, look for a late life biopic.

It’s more than likely Groucho will be more of a secondary or even tertiary lead with the parts of Mr. Stoliar and Ms. Fleming garnering the bulk of attention. As a result, they will take considerable casting attention.

Still, getting a proper, rather older Groucho is a must.

Another consideration is the film’s budget. They won’t want someone who is too big name to bust the proverbial piggy bank and become a figurative fiscal albatross (say that aloud three times).

They will want a name actor. Someone…obviously…older…which is going to be a problem because much like corporate America…Hollywood joyously celebrates ages discrimination. Just ask Helen Mirren and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I initially thought that an early middle-aged actor might do, such as someone like Steve Carell or Mark Ruffalo but putting them in heavy prosthetics and makeup might be not only a budget buster but a distraction.

I think Mr. Zombie would want to go much older, despite Hollywood’s discriminating tastes.

He would want someone with a name who has a track record of big studio and independent pictures.

What follows are my suggestions.

Should anyone want to pass them along to Mr. Zombie, I won’t object.

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

Bruce Dern

Mr. Dern plays frail like a master of his craft.
Mr. Dern plays frail like a master of his craft.

Mr. Dern has spent the past few years strongly specializing in portraying frail characters and has turned in tremendous performances including an Academy Award Best Actor nomination for Nebraska.

At six foot tall, he is a bit large to play the somewhat diminutive Mr. Marx.

A half a foot or so shouldn’t get in the way of talent as outstanding as Bruce Dern.

Christopher Walken

He's got bizarre down pat...
He's got bizarre down pat...

Like Bruce Dern, Walken is somewhat tall but he has a wide range of experience in all sorts of films and wouldn’t be too large of a name to let playing a frail old man get in his way.

If there’s a drawback, Walken specializes in playing versions of Walken; with a distinct pattern of speech and movement.

Rob Zombie needs someone to play Groucho not someone playing themselves playing Groucho.

Al Pacino

Al playing Al as Groucho? Why not?
Al playing Al as Groucho? Why not?

If Mr. Zombie isn’t too concerned about someone playing an extended imitation of Groucho, Pacino might do.

Like Christopher Walken, Pacino seemingly always plays variations of himself.

There are similarities in age as well as physical dimensions and the Pacino name is still money.

Kevin Pollak

A very talented long shot.
A very talented long shot.

Though a bit young for the part, Pollak is an extremely talented actor, stand-up comic and impressionist who has been around and isn’t too big of a name.

With the right makeup, Kevin could easily and convincingly do the job.

Gabe Kaplan

Kaplan played Groucho in the 1980s.
Kaplan played Groucho in the 1980s.

I know what you’re thinking. Kaplan is not a great actor…he is barely working in show business anymore. Professional poker play seems to be his retirement career.

I mention Kaplan because he has considerable insight into the life of Groucho Mark, playing the comedy legend in a one-man show that was released on video.

He has the talent and experience but he is nowhere near the potential casting radar.

Perhaps someone should bring him to Mr. Zombie’s attention.

Finally, for what it’s worth, here is what I believe the legend himself might think about the upcoming film:


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