De-aging Actors

23 June 2020
Forever young.
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In Gemini Man, your M-Net Sunday night movie this weekend, Will Smith must face off against himself. We don’t mean this in some kind of abstract, inner-demon, Gollum/Sméagol way. We mean it literally. Smith plays a retired assassin who must be taken out … by a cloned younger version of himself. And who plays this younger version? None other than Will Smith ... a digitally de-aged Will Smith, that is.

This is not the first time the de-aging technique has been used in movies. In anticipation of watching current Will Smith vs. young Will Smith in Gemini Man, we look at eleven other movies which have used this process before.

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
In the third X-Men movie starring the incomparable and incredible Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, a flashback scene requires slightly younger versions of their characters, Charles Xavier and Magneto. Out came the digital tools to smooth their wrinkles and tighten their jawlines. As much as we adore these actors, we’re grateful the even younger versions of their characters in later instalments were played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The whole premise of this movie centres on de-aging, so it was practically a given that this new technology would be used to age and de-age its title character. Brad Pitt reteamed with David Fincher to play Benjamin Button, a character who is born physiologically old and then ages in reverse. Pitt was in his mid-40s when the film was made, playing the character around that age. But the younger and older versions were played by him too, thanks to a camera system called Contour. Check it out below.

Orlando Bloom in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Bloom has one of those boyish faces that just don’t seem to age, but the actor still ages more than an immortal, ageless elf ever would. So when he reprised his role as Legolas in the second Hobbit movie, ten years after he had last appeared as the character in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, he had to be digitally de-aged. But even if elves did age, Bloom would still have needed to be de-aged because The Hobbit is set before the events of The Lord of the Rings.

Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne in the Ant-Man Movies (2015 – 2018)
Movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe pop up a lot on this list. The first time they played around with the technology was to create skinny Steve out of the more buff Chris Evans, in Captain America: The First Avenger. But the franchise first used it for de-aging with Michael Douglas, when we see him as a younger version of his character, Hank Pym. In the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Douglas was de-aged again, as were Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne.

Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
The de-aging of Carrie Fisher and the recreation of Peter Cushing in this anthology film was met with a lot of push back. Not only did many feel that Fisher looked too plastic, but it also robbed a younger actor of the opportunity to play Leia. There’s also the issue of compensation and consent. If a likeness of an actor is used to digitally recreate them, shouldn’t they be consulted and compensated? This question came to the fore with Rogue One in particular, given that Fisher passed shortly after the movie’s release and Cushing had already been dead for 22 years.

Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War (2016)
In the thirteenth MCU movie, it was RDJ’s turn to de-age. Not only do we get a remarkable younger version of Tony Stark, but we get to see the current Tony Stark in the same frame. It looks pretty good, but given that the scene is merely a holograph and not an actual flashback, if it had looked artificial, it would have been forgivable.

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Depp also had one of those boyish faces that, for the longest time, never seemed to age. He’s gotten a little rougher and more rugged as he sails towards 60, and he’s particularly rough and rugged as Captain Jack Sparrow. So when a younger version of the character was called for in the fifth Pirates movie, it’s a digitally de-aged version that recalls the fresh-faced Depp we knew from 21 Jump Street and Cry-Baby.

Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
It’s another Marvel movie (and it won’t be the last). Kurt Russell steps onto the galactic scene as Star-Lord’s father, Ego. In a flashback scene we get to see a younger version of the character, thanks to some pretty good digital de-aging.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in The Irishman (2019)
This film was highly anticipated for reuniting DeNiro and Pacino on screen for the first time since 2008. But what eclipsed even that conversation was the digital de-aging of both actors in a story that takes place between 1949 and 2000.

Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel (2019)
Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is central to the MCU. Along with Stan Lee and Chris Evans, Jackson has appeared in more instalments than any other actor, which means that when it came to setting one of the movies in the ‘90s, they had to digitally de-age him in order to incorporate a younger Fury into the story.

Watch this technology at work as Will Smith and Will Smith star in Gemini Man, your Sunday night movie on 28 June at 20:05 on M-Net channel 101.