One week before production is scheduled to start on writer-director Ondi Timoner’s “Mapplethorpe,” the biopic starring Matt Smith as photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, “Imposters” actress Marianne Rendón has been cast as Patti Smith, IndieWire has learned. The role was originally slated for Zosia Mamet until she dropped out over scheduling conflicts.
What the film doesn’t have, however, is the support of Patti Smith.
A singer, poet, and influential member of the 1970s punk rock movement, Smith documented her seminal personal and artistic relationship with Mapplethorpe in the 2010 memoir “Just Kids,” which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. However, a rep for Smith said she opted not to be involved in the production in any way, declining to comment as to why.
“When I saw Marianne for the first time, I knew we’d finally found our Patti,” Timoner said on Monday. “She has a spunky, open energy and a spark that gives Robert what he needs to explore the world and himself, for the first time… Marianne has such charisma and versatility, I am convinced we are introducing a talent to the world of cinema and this is only the beginning.”
Timoner added that Matt Smith “has a quiet dark power that captured ‘Mapplethorpe’ from the moment I saw him. We read hundreds of people for this iconic role, and his performance was jaw-dropping. He has the gravitas that the singularly focused artist himself possessed, which allowed him to turn the unholy holy and even transform the way we viewed photography as fine art.”
The “Mapplethorpe” team does have the support of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, an organization that he helped found a year before his death from AIDS in 1989. The organization cites as its mission “to protect his work, to advance his creative vision and to promote the causes he cared about… During the last weeks of his life, he added the second mandate of supporting medical research in the area of AIDS and HIV infection.”
“The Mapplethorpe Foundation was impressed by Ondi Timoner’s vision for the project and her strengths as an artist,” Michael Ward Stout, president of the foundation, said in an emailed statement. “We’re very pleased she has chosen to tell Robert’s story.”
“Mapplethorpe” follows the photographer from his rise to fame in the 1970s until his death. According to Timoner, Smith’s character appears in roughly one third of the film.
“It’s a big role,” Timoner told IndieWire. “New York was a cold place for both [Mapplethorpe and Smith] and they were kind of like lone wolves.”
Timoner optioned the project back in 2006, based on a story by Bruce Goodrich, and later took her script to the Sundance Institute’s feature film lab in 2010. Across more than what Timoner said was more than 40 rewrites, Timoner pored over archival material that includes Mappethorpe’s early collage work, provided by The Mapplethorpe Foundation. “It’s phenomenal,” she said. “He comes of age and comes into his sexuality and his artistry all at the same time.”
“Mapplethorpe” marks Timoner’s first narrative feature after working in documentaries for more than 20 years, though the movie continues her focus on “impossible visionaries taking on impossible things,” she said.
Timoner’s 2009 documentary, “We Live in Public,” about internet entrepreneur Josh Harris, won the documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, as did her 2004 documentary “Dig!,” about American rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. “When I tell stories in documentary, I’m attempting to really make suspense-driven narratives,” she said, adding that one of the things she likes to focus on is “the serendipity that happens in life.”
Timoner’s most recent project is the 10-hour docuseries, “Jungletown,” shot in Kalu Yala, Panama, a place that its founders describe as the world’s “most sustainable” town. The series premiered March 28 on Viceland. Her most recent feature documentary, 2015’s “Brand: A Second Coming,” focused on actor-comedian Russell Brand and his journey through addiction to becoming a Hollywood star and stand-up comedian.
Rendón has a short resume: She stars in the Bravo series “Imposters” as a struggling artist named Jules and has a small feature role in writer-director Aaron Katz’s “Gemini,” which Neon acquired after it premiered at SXSW this year. In April, Rendón told an interviewer that for her role on “Imposters” she drew inspiration from well-known artists including Sandra Bernhard, Eileen Miles, and Patti Smith.
“Mapplethorpe” is set to begin shooting July 11 in New York.