The biopic is one of the sturdiest film genres out there, what with the potential for attention-grabbing physical transformations coupled with the long list of actors who have won Oscars for portraying real people (Jamie Foxx, Reese Witherspoon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, and so on). A juicy story about a larger-than-life personality is often irresistible for actors wanting a good star turn.
The rise and very public fall of Lance Armstrong provides an ideal narrative, so it’s not difficult to see why Silver Linings Playbook star Bradley Cooper would be interested in portraying the disgraced 7-time Tour de France champion.
Besides Armstrong, the other central role is that of Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong’s teammate on the US Postal Service Team who famously came forward and on 60 Minutes admitted he had witnessed Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs. Although accusations of doping plagued Armstrong for years, his bout with cancer and his status as one of the world’s most revered athletes tended to diffuse them. Hamilton’s accusations stuck, and when Armstrong publicly confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had used performance enhancing drugs, he was stripped of his titles and quickly became one of the most reviled public figures in recent memory.
The project, which is backed by Warner Bros. and Atlas Entertainment, is one of three Armstrong films on the fast-track to production. One competing film is being written by Trance scribe John Hodge for director Stephen Frears (The Queen), and as of around a month ago, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints star Ben Foster was in final talks to star as Armstrong.
The third biopic is to be produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company and based on Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong, a HarperCollins book by New York Times sports reporter Juliet Macur, who covered Armstrong from the late ’90s (his famous battle with cancer) to the mid-2000s.
Cooper was reportedly approached by Abrams for Cycle of Lies to star as Armstrong, but wound up at Warners instead, who may have been able to lure him to the project with the prospect of producing, too. Of these three projects, this one seems like it has the best hook – if it can beat Frears and Foster’s as-yet-untitled film into production.
Red Blooded American‘s director, Jay Roach, helmed all three Austin Powers movies, as well as Meet the Parents and its sequel, but moved into more mature and interesting territory with the HBO movies Recount and Game Change.
It’s not at all unusual in Hollywood for similar, rival projects to enter development at the same time, even for biopics. Christopher Nolan was developing a film based on Howard Hughes with Jim Carrey, but Martin Scorcese’s Hughes biopic The Aviator beat him to the punch.
Frears and Foster’s movie might just be further along than Roach’s, and given Bradley Cooper’s in-demand status and full dance card – he has David O. Russell’s American Hustle releasing this December and is set to star in Cameron Crowe’s next project sometime early in the fall. On the other hand, with Stephen Spielberg dropping out of directing American Sniper, he could now have a solid window to beat the other projects to the finish line.
Stay tuned for more details on Red Blooded American and the various Lance Armstrong biopics as they become available.