For years, Hollywood has been trying to get a new John Belushi biopic off the ground. At one point, the project was set up at Warner Bros. with Todd Phillips producing and directing from a script by Steve Conrad (Wonder). A few years later, the film’s producers decided to make Belushi as an indie movie, with Conrad directing himself. That was back in October 2013, but since that announcement, there hasn’t been much movement — until now.
Collider has exclusively learned that David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) has come on to direct the film, which now has Broadway sensation Alex Brightman attached to play Belushi, the larger-than-life star of Saturday Night Live who went on to memorable roles in National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
Alexandra Milchan (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Scott Lambert (The Terror) are producing Belushi via their Emjag Productions banner along with legendary casting director Bonnie Timmermann. Michael Chiklis previously played Belushi in a 1989 adaptation of the Bob Woodward book Wired, which reportedly was boycotted by Belushi’s friends and family. This project, however, boasts the involvement of Belushi’s widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, who is expected to serve as an executive producer. In a Hollywood Reporter story from back in 2013, Belushi’s SNL pal Dan Aykroyd was reportedly on board as an executive producer as well, though it’s unclear whether he’s involved in the current incarnation of the project.
Belushi was a comic force who famously died at the age of 33 from a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont in 1982. The film is expected to follow Belushi at the height of his fame, and tell the story of a man who embodied both the glory and the tragedy of the American dream.
At one point, Conrad was considering Emile Hirsch, Adam Devine and Phillips’ future Joker star Joaquin Phoenix to play Belushi in an earlier incarnation of the project. Miles Teller and Nelson Franklin had been eyed to play Aykroyd, while Ellen Page was the top choice to play Belushi’s girlfriend-turned-wife, who was then known as Judy Jacklin. This time around, Annaleigh Ashford is being eyed to play Jacklin (whose family is a big part of the script), while John Mulaney has been offered the role of Aykroyd, though neither is confirmed to be involved with Belushi at this time.
Sources say the script also features nearly a dozen celebrities as characters, such as SNL boss Lorne Michaels, Belushi’s fellow cast member Gilda Radner, and SNL writers Al Franken and Tom Davis, as well as broadcast journalist Barbara Walters, Jack Nicholson, who directed Belushi in 1978’s western-comedy Goin’ South, and musicians Keith Richards, James Taylor and Paul Simon, the latter of whom was John’s neighbor on Martha’s Vineyard and performed at his funeral.
Brightman is a two-time Tony nominee who earned nominations for his starring turns in School of Rock and Beetlejuice. His additional Broadway credits include Wicked, Big Fish, and Matilda the Musical. He has guest starred on TV shows such as The Good Fight and SMILF, and he was recently cast alongside Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish in the indie comedy Here Today. He’s represented by UTA, Brookside Artist Management and Stewart Talent.
Frankel directed mainstream hits like The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, as well as the Meryl Streep–Tommy Lee Jones movie Hope Springs. He’s coming off the Will Smith drama Collateral Beauty, so the Belushi biopic is a return of sorts to his comedic wheelhouse. He’s repped by WME and Anonymous Content. Frankel recently signed on to direct and executive produce two episodes of the Shonda Rhimes-produced Netflix series Inventing Anna, which will star Julia Garner as New York con artist Anna Delvey.