Over the last few weeks, rumors have been flying that the Lee Daniels-directed biopic of Richard Pryor had a guaranteed front runner for the role of the late celebrated stand-up. Of course, we’ve been hearing this ever since Marlon Wayans was hired to play the part, only to have that version of the project (to be helmed by Bill Condon) shelved. Now, according to The Dissolve, Michael Epps is the leading candidate to take on the challenge of bringing one of the world’s most recognizable comedians to life. Of course, he replaces former sure-thing Nick Cannon whose been all over social media securing his (apparently now former) place in the production.
Such musical acting chairs makes a lot of sense. Just like the hiring of Chadwick Boseman to play the iconic Godfather of Soul, James Brown, whoever Daniels and the producers pick to take on Pryor has to nail it. Not just suggest or “find his essence.” No, the actor/comic/whatever they eventually settle on has the challenge of reminding us of one of our most adored and famous media personalities without totally dissolving into shtick or mere impersonation. There are a lot of African American performers who can “do” Pryor. His vocal style and mannerisms are easily imitate-able. What’s not are his inner demons, psychological and pharmaceutical struggles sitting right at the surface, shading everything he said or did with an aura of anger and angst.
Of course, Boseman’s brilliant turn as Brown proved that, as long as you capture the public face of a famous performer, the backstage stuff is easy. Indeed, as long as Epps, or whoever becomes the next news cycle’s hot tip of the day, gets both the notoriety and the nuances right, they will be fine. Daniels, on the other hand, will have his hands full. Picking through Pryor’s life, there are a lot of milestones and meaningful interactions that must be dealt with. Again, if ‘Get On Up’ can be used as a guide, maybe a more ambiguous, non-linear approach could work. If not, perhaps Pryor’s own autobiographical ‘Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling’ can offer up some narrative clarity. It’s a woefully neglected and seriously flawed film, but it also does a great job of getting inside the mind of this masterful funny man.
Source: The Dissolve