Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin – better known as just Rasputin – is quite the fascinating historical figure. The Russian mystic became an advisor to the Russian Imperial family, beginning in 1907 when Tsar Nicholas II invited him as a healer for their son Tsarevich (who suffered from hemophilia). The mysterious fellow has long shared the blame for the collapse of the Romanov dynasty, but he is perhaps equally infamous for his unwillingness to die – as he managed to survive being stabbed, shot (twice) and strangled in a single night, before finally drowning in the Neva River.
The film industry, as you would expect, has long had a ball with its portrayal of the sunken-eyed and bearded advisor. Some of his better-known onscreen renditions include that in Hammer Horror’s 1966 film Rasputin: The Mad Monk (which starred Christopher Lee) and the Disney
ripoff style 1997 animated musical Anastasia, where he was voiced by Christopher Lloyd (with Jim Cummings performing his solo number, “In the Dark of the Night”).
Deadline is reporting that Warner Bros. has acquired a pitch for Rasputin, a biographical film that (by the sound of it) will offer something of a more accurate take on its namesake’s life. The project is being fashioned with Leonardo DiCaprio in mind to play the “Mad Monk”; meanwhile, DiCaprio’s Appian Way partner Jennifer Davisson Killoran will co-produce, alongside Kevin McCormick (Gangster Squad) and Peter Morgan (Identity Thief).
The pitch was originated by Jason Dean Hall, who has a deal to develop it into a full-blown script. Dean Hall’s previous writing credits include this August’s corporate thriller Paranoia (watch the new trailer), which stars heavy-hitting actor types Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. (It’s the Air Force One reunion that you never expected!). He also scripted the adaptation of Chris Kyle’s – the late Navy SEAL elite sniper – memoir, American Sniper, which has Morgan producing and Steven Spielberg attached to direct.
Hall’s recent script work must be fairly impressive, in order to gain the attention of so many Hollywood big-shots; indeed, Deadline is reporting that DiCaprio became interested in headlining Rasputin because of the “psychological depth” that the monk was given in Hall’s pitch. This presents another opportunity for the actor to carve out a complex and nuanced portrayal of a tortured real-life individual, after his award-nominated turns as Howard Hughes in The Aviator and J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar; not to mention, his next performance – as the real-world corrupt New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming adaptation, The Wolf of Wall Street.
DiCaprio, of course, is not Russian, but this fact seems unlikely to prompt too much grumbling – amongst the historical-accuracy crowd – if only because there’s a tradition of non-Russian actors playing the fellow onscreen. The larger concern is probably that Hollywood A-listers, in general, have earned themselves a bad reputation for failing hard whenever they attempt to pull off a convincing Russian accent.
That said, if anyone can manage the task, it’s probably the same man who played a despicable slave owner in Quetin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – and then, turned around to create a definitive portrait of Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. (Will someone just give DiCaprio his Oscar already?)
We’ll keep you posted on the status of Rasputin as more information becomes available.