Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence is poised to play famed Hollywood talent agent Sue Mengers in a biopic that has sparked a bidding war between Apple and Netflix.
Puck‘s Matt Belloni broke the story in his recent newsletter, reporting that Paolo Sorrentino (The Young Pope) is attached to direct from a script by Lauren Schuker Blum, Rebecca Angelo and John Logan, the latter of whom previously turned Mengers‘ colorful life into a stage play starring the great Bette Midler.
Mengers worked for ICM, MCA, and the famed William Morris Agency over the course of her distinguished career, and she represented an incredible list of clients during her time in the trenches, including Barbra Streisand, Cher, Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Michael Caine, Cybill Shepherd, Brian De Palma, Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Fosse, Joan Collins, Ali McGraw, Anthony Perkins, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan O’Neal, Dyan Cannon, Tuesday Weld, Richard Benjamin, and Gore Vidal.
Mengers was a force to be reckoned with in the 60s and early 70s when she helped her biggest clients land record-breaking deals and championed many rising young starlets such as Bergen, Dunaway, and Shepherd. However, she began to close clients in the late ’70s and ’80s when the agenting biz began to shift, giving rise to ruthless dealmakers such as Michael Ovitz, who spoke of his CAA agents as “foot soldiers” in a forever war against rival agencies. Mengers died in 2011 at the age of 81.
Erik Feig is producing the Mengers biopic under his Picturestart banner alongside Lawrence and her producing partner Justine Polsky. While Lawrence is rather young to play Mengers and doesn’t necessarily look like the agent, if you throw a wig and a big pair of sunglasses on her, I don’t think anyone will argue too hard. After all, she’s a talented actress, and enough of a name to get a movie like this financed.
But yeah, this pretty much has to be made by a streamer, because the economics of the deal wouldn’t work for any of the major studios. Belloni reported that the project comes with a budget of $80 million, including $20 million alone for Lawrence to star and produce the film. While Lawrence would be an impressive addition to Apple’s galaxy of stars, the actress is already in business with Netflix on Don’t Look Up, the environmental satire from writer-director Adam McKay that pairs her with Leonardo DiCaprio. The early buzz I’ve heard on that film hasn’t been great, so part of me suspects Apple will be the one to bite on this project, which comes with a limited audience given the fact that its industry subject matter is very “inside baseball.”
Then again, Apple just shelled out $200 million on Matthew Vaughn‘s star-studded spy movie Argylle so perhaps the streamer will be more conservative when it comes to bidding on this project. It doesn’t seem worth it to me, but I’m not privy to the specifics of streaming economics. Mengers was said to be hilarious, and she certainly led a fascinating life — I did read Brian Kellow‘s bestselling Mengers biography Can I Go Now? which was once in the works with Morgan Spurlock directing — but this almost seems a little too navel-gazey for my taste. Who knows? A steady stream of celeb cameos could make this interesting, plus Sorrentino is a gifted director, and in his hands, with J-Law front-and-center, this story may just prove to be irresistible for a content-hungry streamer.
Sorrentino‘s The Great Beauty won the foreign-language Oscar in 2013, while Lawrence won an Oscar the previous year for her turn in Silver Linings Playbook. The two of them have been developing an adaptation of Mob Girl since 2019, though the Mengers project appears to have more heat at the moment. Lawrence also stars in A24‘s PTSD drama Red, White and Water, though that film is being held until 2022.
Meanwhile, Logan is the creator of Penny Dreadful who has earned three Oscar nominations for writing Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo, and also wrote the James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre. Angelo and Schuker Blum are writing Leigh Whannell‘s Wolfman movie starring Ryan Gosling as well as the Scarlett Johansson movie The Bride for Apple TV+ and A24.