EXCLUSIVE: Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play one of the most prolific serial killers in Chicago history, the 19th Century equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. DiCaprio and his Appian Way partner Jennifer Killoran and Double Features partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher have joined forces to acquire screen rights to The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic And Madness At The Fair That Changed America, the 2003 non-fiction book by Erik Larson. DiCaprio will play Dr. HH Holmes, a cunning serial killer believed to have murdered anywhere from 27 to 200 people at a time when the city of Chicago was enthralled with hosting the World’s Fair of 1893. Holmes constructed The World’s Fair Hotel, an inn more lethal than the Bates Motel, especially for young single women. The sociopath used charm and guile to lure guests into what became known as a “murder castle,” a haunt that had a gas chamber, crematorium and a dissecting table where Holmes would murder his victims and strip their skeletons to sell for medical and scientific study.
In a statement, Killoran called the book “truly a one-of-its-kind American story about our nation’s first serial killer. We’re exited to bring it to the big screen.” Said Shamberg and Sher: “This is a big, entertaining thriller in an incredible setting that will appeal to worldwide audience.”
DiCaprio hasn’t played a role like this, but has long been interested in the notorious killer. Back in 2003, when Tom Cruise optioned the Larson book with the intention to play the killer, DiCaprio set up a rival project, planning to rely on public domain materials of Holmes’s murderous exploits. When the book rights came available, Appian Way and Double Features acquired it from Paradigm on behalf of lit agency Black Inc. They will hire a writer and put together a package before making a deal with a studio. Shamberg and Sher used that formula most recently on the Steven Soderbergh-directed Contagion, which stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard. DiCaprio, coming off this year’s hits Shutter Island and Inception, next plays FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in the Clint Eastwood-directed Hoover for Warner Bros.