Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Paul Reubens On His Successor & CGI: No One Else Will Ever Play Pee-Wee

As has recently been announced by the actor's estate and several major news outlets, Paul Reubens has died at the age of 70. The legendary comedian and children's entertainer was best known for creating and acting as the youthful Pee-wee Herman, a character he played for much of his career and had planned to continue portraying in future projects a few years before his death.

Once upon a time, an actor's death would mean the end of a character's on-screen potential. But thanks to some technological evolutions over the past several years, that is no longer the case. 2016's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" arguably served as the first popular proof-of-concept, with the late Peter Cushing's likeness recreated through CGI for a sizeable supporting role.

Reubens actually addressed this possibility somewhat in a quasi-serious interview with OutClique magazine in 2020 — roughly three years after his cancer diagnosis. When asked who could take up the role in his stead, he stated, "No one else will ever play Pee-wee. That would happen over my dead b . . . oh, I see your point. Actually, it's 2020 now. The technology exists for me to be computer generated and look completely real. However, if I didn't have the budget, I've always liked the work of Christopher Walken."

The Pee-wee Herman films Reubens had hoped to make

The two projects Paul Reubens had been working on were two feature films, both of which he had written to star Pee-wee Herman. The first was "Pee-wee's Big Holiday," which was ultimately produced by Reubens and Judd Apatow and distributed on Netflix in 2016. It was a positively received family adventure in the same vein as 1985's "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." The second was an apparently darker film that would have dealt with more adult scenarios involving the titular character's rise to fame and fall from grace. Perhaps this would have taken at least some inspiration from Reubens' real-life legal struggles, which ultimately saw the actor retreat from the public eye for several years.

There had also been a long-in-development film based on his "Playhouse" series, which Reubens had pitched to Paramount Pictures sometime before 2007. The film would have seemingly been somewhat separate from the "big" adventures and the darker, more adult-themed story, instead focusing on the unique world and characters of the "Pee-wee's Playhouse" series, which originally aired from 1986 to 1990.

Netflix used CGI to make Paul Reubens look younger

In a 2020 interview with Conan O'Brien, Paul Reubens revealed that his appearance in the 2016 film "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" had been altered with the use of anti-aging CGI technology, similar to what was used in the Martin Scorcese crime drama "The Irishman." It wasn't done in service of Reubens' ego, however, but to maintain the childlike essence of the Pee-wee Herman character. "Pee-wee was sort of based on youth and youthfulness," he told O'Brien, explaining how returning to the character with his natural, older appearance would have been too weird.

Apparently, the process wasn't cheap, with Reubens claiming that it would have been significantly less expensive for him to get plastic surgery. "You couldn't afford it, really, seriously," he deadpanned to the talk show host before later stating that he could've gotten an entirely new face and "six facelifts" for the price of his CGI makeover. His youthful appearance wasn't all algorithms and polygons, though. Reubens also credited the talented lighting designers and makeup team, who used their craft in tandem with the technology to bring the character of Pee-wee Herman back as we all remember him.

"Pee-wee's Big Holiday" is currently streaming on Netflix.