Lifelong Oscar bridesmaid Leonardo DiCaprio is moving ahead with The Crowded Room, an extremely buzzy biopic in which he’ll play Billy Milligan, the first person to successfully use multiple personality disorder as a legal defense.
Milligan, who died in December of 2014, was charged with robbery and raping three women on the Ohio State University campus in the 1970s. While preparing his defense, Milligan was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. He and his lawyers pleaded insanity, contending that two of Milligan’s alleged 24 personalites committed the crimes without his knowledge. He was the first to use this defense and be acquitted because of it.
Some of the man’s personalities included Adalana, a lesbian who admitted to the rapes; Ragen, a Yugoslavian communist who admitted to the robberies; and Arthur, a high-strung but proper Englishman. Perhaps the most fascinating part of Milligan’s story is that Hollywood has not yet mined it; such high-profile directors as James Cameron have circled the project for decades, but this is the furthest any adaptation has progressed.
DiCaprio’s Appian Way will produce alongside New Regency, while Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin) and Todd Katzberg have been hired to write a script, working from Daniel Keyes’ nonfiction book about Milligan, titled The Minds of Billy Milligan. DiCaprio, who has been interested in playing Milligan for almost 20 years, will also produce.
Why DiCaprio, an actor known for his portrayals of intense, conflicted individuals, would be attracted to the role is clear. On paper, The Crowded Room sounds like perfect awards season bait for a performer long unappreciated by such ceremonies.
Smilovic and Katzberg are a solid choice to bring The Crowded Room to the big screen. Smilovic previously created the short-lived NBC series My Own Worst Enemy, about a man with two distinct personalities at war with one another, on which Katzberg worked as a staff writer. Smilovic is also working on Arms and the Dudes, a crime comedy that will star Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as two men contracted by the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.