Meryl Streep is no slouch when it comes to transformative performances, but the latest legend she’s set to play will make Anna Wintour look like a pushover. Streep has signed on to star as Maria Callas in an HBO adaptation of “Master Class,” an award-winning Broadway play by Terrence McNally that takes place in 1971 at Julliard. In the story, the unforgettable diva is teaching a class while contemplating her astonishing career and dramatic life, which includes a torrid affair with Aristotle Onassis that ends when he leaves her for none other than Jackie O.
“Master Class” will reunite Streep with Mike Nichols, who worked with her on “Angels in America,” “Postcards From the Edge,” “Heartburn,” and “Silkwood.” The movie will start filming in January after Streep finishes an entirely different sort of musical performance in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricky and the Flash.” Streep, who stars as an aging rocker, has even been getting some guitar-picking tips from Neil Young for the role. No word yet on whether or not she’ll be attempting Callas’ famous bel canto.
Callas, who starred in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Medea” in 1969, is the subject of a number of projects in the works. Faye Dunaway, who starred as Callas in “Master Class” in 1997, directed and stars in a biopic about the singer that has been in limbo for years. In 2013, she told The Independent “about three quarters of the film has been shot, we are going to film the rest of it soon.” Meanwhile, Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) announced at Cannes that she will begin production on a biopic about Callas this fall. Meanwhile, the opera singer did take a stab at acting onscreen herself; she starred as Medea in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s take on the Euripides play.
Gallery | Inexcusable Inaccuracies in Biopics
Inaccuracy: William Wallace’s Affair With Isabella
There is not a lot that is empirically provable or disprovable about events that happened more than 700 years ago. Anyway, you can’t get too picky about the truthfulness of something like the life of William Wallace (Mel Gibson). He’s the dictionary definition of the word legend, and appropriately this movie is filled with folklore carried through the centuries not only in historical records but in stories and songs and poems and plays. Nevertheless, one major aspect of “Braveheart” is completely erroneous and that’s Wallace’s affair with Princess Isabella of France (Sophie Marceau), who was a wee child at the time she was supposed to have met the Scottish hero, and still an adolescent when Wallace was killed.
- ‘My Week With Marilyn’
Inaccuracy: Marilyn’s Film Performance of ‘Heat Wave’
It’s not good to kick off a movie with a glaring error, but this film does just that — sort of. The opening scene has Eddie Redmayne’s character in a theater watching a movie starring Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). But what movie is it? She’s singing “Heat Wave,” which is from “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” But it’s definitely not the scene from that movie. Everything about it — costumes, sets, props, dance routine — are not right. It kind of looks like her performance of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in “Let’s Make Love” (which came out after “My Week With Marilyn” is set), but it’s probably really just supposed to be a composite — a nonexistent musical film scene representing all her musical film scenes. That’s fine if that’s the intention. It’s also probable that the filmmakers weren’t legally able to reenact Fox’s movie and thought nobody would notice.
- ‘The Doors’
Inaccuracy: Jim Morrison’s Emphasis on “Higher”
According to surviving members of The Doors and many others involved in their story, Oliver Stone is guilty of making one of the least factual biopics of all time. Okay, so he took liberties with an already myth-swelled rock legend — that was kind of the point. But even then it’s hard to get away with being unfaithful to a moment that was recorded for television. Pull up a clip of The Doors performing “Light My Fire” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and you’ll see that Jim Morrison puts no cocky emphasis on the contraband lyric “couldn’t get much higher,” as Val Kilmer reenacts it in the film. (We’re unable to embed the clip from the film, but you can watch it here.)
- ‘The Buddy Holly Story’
Inaccuracy: The Crickets Performing “Maybe Baby” on ‘Ed Sullivan’
Perhaps there’s some inside joke in Hollywood that any biopic treatment of an “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance has to take liberties. It’s otherwise unacceptable for filmmakers to ignore the matter of there being concrete visual proof as to what occurred on the program. In this case, it’s that Buddy Holly and The Crickets played three songs over two appearances on “Sullivan,” and none of these were “Maybe Baby.” There’s no maybe about it, and there’s no good reason why the incorrect change was made. Gary Busey is still pretty terrific in the role, though.
- ‘Great Balls of Fire!’
Inaccuracy: “Great Balls of Fire” Topping the Pop Charts
It’s one thing to make changes here and there, but it’s another thing to outright lie the way “Great Balls of Fire!” does. The film about early rock and roll star Jerry Lee Lewis is as cartoonish as biopics get. There are inaccuracies abound. But it goes too far, literally, with a montage illustrating Lewis’s title tune climbing all the way up the Billboard charts. In reality it peaked at #2. So what’s the shame in pretending it grabbed the #1 spot? Well, dumping this documented fact, easily found in print, shows either laziness or total disregard for truth.
- ‘Man on the Moon’
Inaccuracy: Lorne Michaels Presenting the “Dump Andy Kaufman” Poll
Milos Foreman’s film about Andy Kaufman is interesting as far as inaccuracies go for two reasons. One is that it opens with a disclaimer acknowledging that biopics often make changes for narrative reasoning and dramatic effect. The other is that it’s filled with reenactments of televised events, stuff that can be meticulously copied and later scrupulously fact checked. Such as the oft-noted goof of featuring Richard Belzer as inaugural host of “Saturday Night Live” instead of the true original, George Carlin. Well, Belzer was the audience warm-up guy for “SNL” then, so that’s likely not an error. But the film later has producer Lorne Michaels on the show in 1982 presenting a call-in election to either ban Kaufman or have him back again. Not only did Michaels not run “SNL” during this time, but we can watch the actual version online where cast member Gary Kroeger has the honor of performing the task.
Inaccuracy: Alfred Hitchcock Signs Off By Saying “Good Evening”
The recent dramatic film about the making of “Psycho” opens with Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience by saying, “Good evening.” (The clip isn’t available online.) This is obviously inspired by the director’s television series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” But then Hitch also closes out by again saying, “Good evening.” However, he always bid farewell (till next time) on the show by saying “goodnight.” Sure, it’s hard to “prove” he wouldn’t have said “good evening” in this made up situation, but it wouldn’t make sense anyway. “Good evening” is technically a greeting rather than a term for goodbye.
- ‘The Babe Ruth Story’
Inaccuracy: Hitting a Homerun for Johnny Sylvester in 1932
Often biopics will condense life stories by combining major events, as was the case for this film, the first in which the Great Bambino didn’t just play himself (he was portrayed by William Bendix). Unfortunately, baseball fans are known for their retention of statistics, making it difficult to please them without total adherence to easily pointed out data. Like the fact that Babe Ruth hit a homerun for sick kid Johnny Sylvester at the 1926 World Series rather than 1932. It probably just seemed better or had been misremembered in the legend that Sylvester’s homer was the same as the one Ruth famously predicted by pointing to the bleachers at the ‘32 Series. Now, whether or not the Sylvester story was a hoax or whether Ruth’s called shot was all that specific is up for debate, even with the fact-obsessed fans.
- ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’
Inaccuracy: Craig Turner Shown as Ike Turner’s Biological Son
Composite characters are very common in biopics, but when it comes to the main subject’s immediate family members, this isn’t really acceptable. Still, we regularly see multiple wives turned into one, friends combined with siblings, and in the case of the story of Tina Turner (Angela Bassett), children are seemingly interchangeable. Tina’s first child, Craig, is erroneously depicted as the biological son of Ike (Laurence Fishburne). In fact, he was Tina’s child with another man and only later adopted by Ike. Is he meant to be an amalgam of Craig and Ronnie, the couple’s only son together? It initially appears that’s the case, but then Ronnie shows up too.
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