The new Key & Peele film Keanu is seeing mostly positive reviews on the heels of its Friday (April 29) opening, but two people in particular are raving about the comedy duo’s first feature: George Michael and his longtime manager Michael Lippman. That’s because the singer’s music, his likeness and, in fact, his very being is a recurring plot device in the movie.
In real life and in character, Keegan-Michael Key is a big fan of the British singer, who first exploded onto the pop music scene in the early 1980s with his band Wham!, then went on to have massive success as a solo singer. George Michael has slowed down some in recent years, but you can’t say the same of his music. Not only are four of his songs used in Keanu (“Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Faith” and “Freedom! ’90”), Michael also boasts placements in Zoolander, the end title theme to Deadpool and the upcoming Martin Scorsese movie Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller.
But in Keanu, a love of George Michael goes much deeper than his tunes. As the comedy duo look to retrieve their kitten from a local drug dealer, it’s revealed that the thug has a George Michael tattoo. In another scene, Michael’s video for “Faith” is incorporated into the story.
“A golden opportunity dropped in our laps,” Lippman tells Billboard. With the anniversary of Listen Without Prejudice coming up in September, “we were trying to find as much exposure as possible.”
Michael himself had to sign off on the usage, and he did, leaving it to Lippman, who’s worked with him since 1986 (“with some time off for bad behavior — not mine!,” Lippman cracks), to make the call.
Of course, there was some concern about being the butt of a joke, but, says Lippman, “They promised me that wouldn’t be the intention. The way it was described to me was that [George Michael] was so cool that even drug lords got a tattoo of him. … [Key’s and Peele’s] characters go from quiet, unassuming guys to street thugs and they wanted to show something that didn’t seem right, but when put into that situation, works perfectly They chose him to be this character because of what his music meant and they turned George into a cool badass.”
Michael’s team was also shown a rough cut of the New Line movie, after which minor changes were made. “The director, [Peter Atencio], was fantastic,” says Lippman, who hopes to see a bump in streams and increased interest in his client. “It’s great for George and his songs as people become more curious about his music,” he adds.
Although early box office numbers indicate a solid debut for the film, which had a modest budget of $15 million, Lippman cautions, “We have our fingers crossed; New Line has been happy with the initial reaction, and I’m getting tweets and lots of emails from people loving it. I think it will also work well around the world.”
The same could be said for the wave of George Michael nostalgia. Says Lippman: “We’ve had an unprecedented 13 synchs this year leading into the anniversary album. It’s just getting started.”