Who should play John, Paul, George and Ringo for Sam Mendes?

The Beatles in 1963
The Beatles in 1963 - Getty

Who would you cast as the Beatles in a film about their lives? The trouble is, it’s hard to improve on perfection – and in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which gave us Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Justin Long as George Harrison and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr, nothing less than perfection was what we got.

“I’m sick of you being so dark when I’m so impish and whimsical,” Black splutters to Rudd, tackling his bandmate to the floor, as the group bicker on a meditational retreat. “I’ve got a song about an octopus,” chimes in Schwartzman, trying to keep the peace, while Long reflects he’s just sort of sitting there, while his guitar quietly whimpers.

Somehow, the producers of Sam Mendes’s forthcoming quartet of Beatles biopics are going to have to top this. It was announced this week that Mendes, the director of Skyfall and 1917, will be masterminding four interlinked features, all due for release in 2027, which collectively tell the extraordinary story of the band. Each will be made from the perspective of one of its members, so four lead actors are required who will not only convince as their respective Beatles, but also be capable of carrying an entire feature on their shoulders, while scaling down to character roles in the three others.

A future John? Timothee Chalamet
A future John? Timothee Chalamet - WireImage

Dream-casting the Beatles is a like dream-casting James Bond: it’s hard to know whether people actually want credible suggestions, or just a list of famous names. And given the scale of Mendes’s project alone, credibility is key. Few young actors are more capable of carrying a film these days than Timothée Chalamet, who might sound at first blush like a possible John.

But it doesn’t add up: he’d be too expensive to conscript for four films, three of which he wouldn’t even star in; as an American, the inevitable casting backlash wouldn’t be worth his trouble; and he’s already sworn an oath to play Bob Dylan in James Mangold’s A Complete Unknown – the sort of unambiguously solo star vehicle someone of Chalamet’s age and profile would be far likelier to take. Ditto Paul Mescal as Paul: after being Oscar-nominated for his work in a tiny indie then being cast as the lead of Gladiator 2, it’s not going to happen. You might as well throw in Brad Pitt for Ringo, or Denzel Washington for Pete Best.

Jack O'Connell with George Clooney in Money Monster
Jack O'Connell with George Clooney in Money Monster - Atsushi Nishijima

As well as being young (remember The Beatles split up when the band were in their late 20s), the actors will have to feel equally at home in star and character roles, which narrows the pool considerably. For John, you’d need someone with boundless charisma, but also a haunting distance or strangeness: Barry Keoghan, perhaps (though after Saltburn he already feels beyond it), or Jack O’Connell, who showed some of that God’s Lonely Man quality in Andrew Haigh’s series The North Water.

Then comes Paul, who has to be the converse: warm and instantly likeable, perhaps with a glow of guilelessness to cut against the determination and genius. For that, you could turn to Jeremy Irvine, somewhere between his Ivor Novello in Terence Davies’ Benediction and his Albert Narracott in War Horse, or Asa Butterfield somewhere in the vicinity of his Sex Education role. Alternatively, Mendes might use the excuse to reunite with 1917’s George MacKay.

George MacKay in 1917
George MacKay in 1917 - Alamy

George is a tougher call – not least because as Walk Hard noted, he’s the quiet one. Here you need an actor for whom interiority comes naturally: Harris Dickinson, say, or Fionn Whitehead. And then comes the nightmare of finding your Ringo – someone who can presumably serve as comic relief in three films, before digging deeper in his own. Normal People’s Fionn O’Shea would work well here, as would The OA’s Patrick Gibson, who hit both of those notes in the recent family fantasy adventure The Portable Door.

But let’s not forget that Mendes might well prefer to cast relative unknowns: in a sense, he’s looking for the rock biopic equivalents of The Avengers here; so with the band-slash-brand itself as a box office draw, there’s no need to plump for established names. So let’s instead turn to the up-and-comers – those young actors who’ve shown a glint of suitability, and perhaps nothing more, but who in 2027 could well find themselves at the same level of fame as the names above do now.

So if I were his casting director, here’s who I would ask for a tape. As John Lennon, 22-year-old Samuel Bottomley, who was nominated for Best Supporting Performance at last year’s BIFAs for How to Have Sex. As Paul McCartney, 19-year-old Kit Connor, a sweetheart in Netflix’s Heartstopper.

As George Harrison, Stephen McMillan, a Scottish actor in his early 20s who played the troubled young pastry chef Jamie in Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point. And as Ringo Starr, 20-year-old Louis Partridge, who played Sid Vicious in Danny Boyle’s Pistol and showed a flair for comedy in Enola Holmes, though might have to tone down his Chalamet smoulder a bit.