Back in August 2010, comedy fans around the world were treated to the news that Todd Phillips would be producing a John Belushi biopic, written by Steven Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness). That such heavyweights would be collaborating on a film about a beloved comic legend was, to say the least, very exciting.
Even more exciting, was confirmation that the book would be based on Belushi – the second novel about the late star to be written (or at least co-written) by his widow, Judith Belushi Pisano. Generally acknowledged as being the most honest of books about Belushi, it benefits from being a source material supported by the people that played a part in his life, as opposed to the ill-received 1989 film adaptation of Bob Woodward’s Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, starring Michael Chiklis.
However, this project soon fell quiet, and speculation suggested problems in the casting of Belushi’s surviving counterparts, such as Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase. Now given a new lease of life with confirmation that writer Steven Conrad will also direct, the film is gaining momentum once more with a possible shortlist for the leading role featuring Emile Hirsch, Adam Devine and Joaquin Phoenix. All have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the complex role of John Belushi – a man renowned for his unparalleled comic and musical talent, while battling against his infamous darker side behind-the-scenes.
Emile Hirsch is an interesting choice. Coming from a mainly dramatic background, his work has gained critical acclaim in recent years with films such as Milk and the current festival favourite, Prince Avalanche. Though he is of the right age, he has yet to really prove his comedic chops on film.
Adam Devine, on the other hand, represents the opposite. A recognisable face in TV comedy, thanks to Workaholics, he has steadily built a reputation as a capable comic, with as much experience in the writer’s room as in front of the camera. Though he has not tackled any dramatic cinema so far, he provided a memorable turn in the successful comedy film Pitch Perfect.
Then, we have Joaquin Phoenix – an internationally acclaimed powerhouse performer. Phoenix has not done much comedy onscreen since 1989’s Parenthood, but has played many moments of humour in his dramatic films such as Buffalo Soldiers and Signs – hinting at natural comic timing. He has also proven his musical ability on film with his outstanding performance in Walk The Line – a biopic of another beloved icon.
With Nelson Franklin (The Office, Veep, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) currently being mentioned for the role of Belushi’s best friend and close collaborator, Dan Aykroyd, whichever actor ultimately fills the role of John Belushi, this project is definitely one to watch for.