Forest Whitaker steps in to produce the Richard Pryor biopic – but will it actually happen?

Posted by · 11:24 am · March 28th, 2013

A biopic of late, great stand-up comedian Richard Pryor is clearly a cursed production. Versions with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Kasi Lemmons have crashed and burned, even with stars attached. Filmmaker Bill Condon was coming off the $100 million “Dreamgirls” in 2006 and had an honest script in place depicting all the drugs, women and turmoil of Pryor’s life, but the hard R rating made it difficult to land financing. It was dark with a capital “D,” and stars such as Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and Jamie Foxx balked, further scaring off studios as the project bounced from Fox Searchlight to Paramount.

Eventually, actor Marlon Wayans nailed his audition with Condon and secured the role. The project  then found its way to Sony, where Adam Sandler and Chris Rock were set to produce under Sandler’s Happy Madison shingle. With a budget south of $20 million, per Sandler’s deal, the studio couldn’t say no. And yet, it still didn’t happen. The late comedian’s widow, Jennifer Pryor, complicated the production and it went away yet again. Plus, a non-star like Wayans, whether he nailed the audition or not, was surely a dicey aspect for studio types.

When Condon took the reins on the final two installments of the “Twilight” franchise, I personally cringed, because it didn’t seem like material worthy of an artist like him. But if cashing in meant he could tackle projects like this, then I was all for it. Well, it looks like he had to just let it slip away, because now comes news that Forest Whitaker has taken over the nearly 20-year effort to bring this epic story to the screen.

But the question is: Will it actually happen?

Deadline reports that Whitaker is teaming with Pryor’s widow to produce the film through his Significant Productions shingle with partner Nina Yang-Bongiovi. But there’s nothing in the report to suggest the project will come to fruition as financing isn’t in place yet and, as the history suggests, there is something keeping this thing from happening. We certainly wish all involved the best of luck, because an outstanding production centered on Pryor would be huge.

Whitaker is coming off Sundance success with his involvement in Audience Award winner “Fruitvale.” That film starred Michael B. Jordan of television fame, who gave an outstanding performance and is suggested by Mike Fleming at Deadline for the role. But, like Wayans, I imagine Jordan’s low profile could make it tricky to land money and a distribution partner. That could all change if “Fruitvale” hits hard this fall, so I imagine everyone will be keeping an eye on that.

In the meantime, who would you suggest to star as Richard Pryor in a film about the comic’s life? Let us know in the comments section below.

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