Elijah Wood, Dylan Sprouse, and Zelda Williams also spoke out about Finding Jack, a new movie that will digitally recreate Dean's image.

By Joey Nolfi
November 07, 2019 at 12:21 PM EST
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Finding Jack — a movie that made headlines Wednesday for its directors’ plans to digitally recreate Hollywood icon James Dean‘s likeness for a co-leading role 64 years after his 1955 death at age 24— has already found controversy nearly a year out from its planned theatrical release date.

Cameras have yet to roll on the planned Vietnam War movie (about a suicidal American soldier who befriends a dog on the battlefield), but several actors have still spoken out about the project using the image of a deceased star.

“I’m sure he’d be thrilled. This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes,” Avengers and Knives Out star Chris Evans wrote on Twitter. “The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.” 

The Lord of the RingsElijah Wood and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody performer Dylan Sprouse echoed Evans’ feelings, with the former tweeting that the film “shouldn’t be a thing,” while the latter likened the process to robbing “graves of dead icons” to “milk the masses for less!”

Preacher‘s Julie Ann Emery said she worries how the performance will be credited and how the stand-in providing the base for Dean’s body will be paid before claiming the news proves “how little this team understands the acting craft,” while Westworld‘s Shannon Woodward joked: “Big what up to all the actors that actually read for this role and had to hear they lost the job to James Dean.”

Zelda Williams, daughter of the late comedy icon Robin Williams, who died in 2014 after restricting the use of his image for 25 years after his death, said the move was the equivalent to “puppeteering the dead for their ‘clout’,” before calling it “unfair” to actors and makeup artists losing work as a result of incorporating a digital performance in place of a human star. She went on to call it “bad taste” and pose the scenario: “What to stop a pharma from resurrecting Chaplin to sell pills, or casting Bacall in a bad action flick? A famous bombshell back for porn? If all it takes is money & a distant relative’s permission, the future is GRIM and full of corporate ghosts.”

Several online commenters have also compared news of Dean’s role in Finding Jack to the plot of Ari Folman’s 2013 drama The Congress, which starred Robin Wright as an actress who signs rights to her digital likeness over to a movie studio to use after her death.

Speaking to EW shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, codirector Anton Ernst (who’s helming Finding Jack with his Magic City Films partner Tati Golykh) assured that he has the best interest of Dean’s family (who gave permission for the star’s likeness to appear in the movie) and fans at heart.

“We have seen [screen] tests. When he’s on screen, it looks 100 percent like James Dean. It’s exactly the way that we envisioned it,” he revealed, explaining that the actor will come back to life via a mixture of technologies — via Canadian visual effects company Imagine Engine and South African VFX house MOI Worldwide — incorporating Dean’s likeness in pre-existing photos and footage along with new digital creations projected over stand-ins and body doubles. “It gives me a feeling of excitement, because his presence enhances the feel-good nature of the movie…. It allows that character to have more dimensions. It was a long search before we thought to go down this road. It’s not a gimmick. He’s the right guy for the role, he’s just unfortunately no longer with us.”

Dean will portray the character of Rogan, a platoon leader who initially pushes back against the lead character’s relationship with his new canine pal, though Ernst said he shifts from “bad guy” to “one of the good guys” by the film’s end.

“As we said to the family, we’ll do everything to be [respectful] of his legacy and ensure that it’s not perceived or treated as a gimmick,” Ernst finished. “We’ll treat it with a seriousness that a cultural icon of his status deserves.”

Finding Jack is set to be released on Nov. 11, 2020, with production beginning on Nov. 17 of this year.

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