Earlier this year, Roger Ebert’s fascinating life was brought to the big screen in the incredible Life Itself, but Hollywood doesn’t appear to be done with the legendary film critic just yet. Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a project centering on Ebert’s collaboration with eccentric filmmaker Russ Meyer on the ill-fated satire Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, has popped up and is gaining some traction. According to Deadline, Will Ferrell is eyeing the part of Meyer in the pic, which will explore the comedic and unnatural partnership that the two men struck up.
This isn’t the first time that Meyer’s story has been tackled by filmmakers. David O. Russell was planning a biopic at some point, with a script written by Merritt Johnson (Lovelace), though the director’s other projects appear to have sidelined it permanently. This one doesn’t have a director yet (Edgar Wright reportedly has interest, but he’s got Baby Driver and Grasshopper Jungle already lined up), but it’s apparently “on the fast track,” so we may be hearing more on that front soon.
Ferrell is apparently on the verge of reaching a deal for the role of Meyer, but no actor has been announced for Ebert yet. It would certainly be a tantalizing gig for both established thesps like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen and for an up-and-comer like, say, Erik Charles Nielsen (who looks the part but hasn’t yet proven himself a suitably strong actor).
As per Deadline, the story will be set in the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money, and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily over a number of big-budget flops. Meyer, the softcore pulp filmmaker behind Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, set his sights on making a legitimate film, which 20th head Richard Zanuck signed off on due to Meyer’s reliable profitability and low budgets. When Meyer requested that Ebert, who had written one of the few positive reviews the filmmaker had received, write the script, the two formed an unusual relationship that stayed strong throughout debates with the ratings board and past the X-rated film’s release (and subsequent box office success) up until Meyer’s death in 2004.
It’s an interesting story involving two men who left a clear mark on American cinema, so we’ll certainly keep you posted as to how it develops. As of right now, Russ & Roger Go Beyond is angling to shoot next year. Ferrell has not yet signed a deal, but one seems imminent.