Earlier this year, we learned the heartbreaking news that Bruce Willis would be halting his storied acting career due to his diagnosis with aphasia, a neurological disorder that deteriorates the affected person's ability to communicate.
But it may not be the last time we’ll see his mug on the silver screen — or in ads. According to reporting by The Telegraph, Willis has become the first living Hollywood actor to sell their rights to allow a "digital twin" to be used — and monetized — on screen.
The buyer, a US firm not-so-cleverly called Deepcake, has already used its form of deepfake tech to render the 67 year old actor's digital twin in a phone ad last year for Russian telecom provider MegaFon. Calling it a "digital twin" may sound like they’ve got the actor’s whole body in store, but really it’s just the usual case of transplanting their face onto another actor’s.
And look: in a chintzy phone ad only half paid attention to by audiences, sure, it’s convincing enough. But it’s not the real Bruce, not the real man with his iconic bald pate, his demeanor like a walking bruise.
Still, Willis had some nice things to say in a statement on the company’s website.
"I liked the precision of my character. It's a great opportunity for me to go back in time. The neural network was trained on content of ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Fifth Element’, so my character is similar to the images of that time," Willis said.
"With the advent of the modern technology, I could communicate, work and participate in filming, even being on another continent. It's a brand new and interesting experience for me, and [I’m] grateful to our team."
While this should help Willis and his family earn extra cash, it’s an ominous precedent. With an already golden legacy and a filmography dense with classics like "Die Hard," "Pulp Fiction," and "The Sixth Sense," is this really how Willis should be drawing out the end of his career?
It’s not the first time deepfake adjacent tech has cropped up in movies. One ill-fated production planned to digitally resurrect the long dead actor and Hollywood legend James Dean, to plenty of backlash.
And while not deepfakes per se, Disney made use of eerie CGI puppets to bring back Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing, both of whom had already passed away.
Similarly, James Earl Jones, the iconic voice of Darth Vader, allowed for his deep baritones to be imitated by an AI, and you can bet Disney will be taking advantage of that for endless sequels and reboots to come. But for the sake of both actors and moviegoers: let's not have our stars replaced by lifeless reconstructions.
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