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Richard Pryor biopic won’t skimp on the grim stuff, producer promises

Richard Pryor Live (Screenshot: YouTube)

It’s common for Hollywood biopics to gloss over the more unsavory details of their subjects’ lives and focus on the positive aspects. But if producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Silver Linings Playbook, Big Fish) is true to his word, the long-awaited Richard Pryor biopic will not fall into that trap. Between the cocaine abuse, the string of divorces, and the early 1980s suicide attempt, there is plenty of potentially disturbing material in Pryor’s life story. “We’re tackling it full on,” Cohen says in an interview with Collider’s Steven Weintraub. “The script is as dark, and raw, and sad, and scary in some ways but ultimately inspiring as well as a script can be.” That’s an appropriate tribute to Pryor, who didn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics in his stand-up act. An example:

The Pryor biopic, an ambitious “wide scope” epic that will cover the comedian’s entire life, has been in the works for years, but Cohen is still having trouble getting the financing for it. Actor Mike Epps (Next Friday, Friday After Next) is attached to play the lead. The script, originally drafted by Bill Condon (Gods And Monsters, Dreamgirls) and later rewritten by Lee Daniels (The Butler), is described by Cohen as “brilliant” and “overpoweringly beautiful.” So what’s holding it back? Is the problem that the script is too depressing for investors? Cohen is cagey:

I wouldn’t say that’s really part of the problem because the financiers really they’re looking at the value of the film. They’re not concerned per se if something’s really dark, but we didn’t get any help from that. If it was a romantic comedy it would be easier to get our funding together.


The real issue may be that the film could be expensive, and biopics about comedians aren’t exactly a license to print money. “It’s not a cheap movie,” Cohen admits. Nevertheless, the producer is bullish on the project’s future: “Some way, somehow, it’s going to get made.”

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