EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures is mobilizing a feature film about iconic daredevil Evel Knievel that will be written by William Monahan. The film will be based on the Sheldon Saltman book Evel Knievel On Tour, which has been acquired as part of the package. What’s fascinating about this project is the hope it will reunite Monahan and director Martin Scorsese, whose alliance on The Departed led to Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Monahan and Best Director for Scorsese.
They will use as a resource a book that is best remembered for so pissing off Knievel in its depiction of his life on the road that he attacked the author with a baseball bat on the Fox lot, broke his arm and got himself in all kinds of legal, money and image trouble. The film will be produced by Terence Winter (the Boardwalk Empire creator who scripted the Scorsese-directed The Wolf Of Wall Street), Rachel Winter (producer of Dallas Buyers Club) and LBI Entertainment.
Monahan has his deal at Paramount, as does Scorsese, and this is in its most nascent stages. Scorsese at this point won’t make a final decision on attaching until further down the line. There have been numerous tries to turn the life of the daredevil Knievel into a feature, but they have been as unsuccessful as Evel’s famed attempt to jump Snake River Canyon in a rocket. The most recent attempt came at Sony where Darren Aronofsky wanted to direct a Knievel film, with Channing Tatum rumored as potential star, but Aronofsky stuck a pin in it and took on an untitled project with Jennifer Lawrence at New Regency. Years ago, the John Logan script Pure Evel had Betty Thomas attached and Matthew McConaughey circling.
While many actors would step up for this, if all works out, it would not be a dangerous leap to expect Scorsese to first approach the star he always goes to, especially since Leonardo DiCaprio could play Knievel at various stages and certainly when Evel’s all-American image began to flag. I am not sure the storytelling track Monahan will take, but Knievel was a complicated, heroically bold, brash man who started his life as a bad-boy outlaw and came to fame after wrapping himself in the American flag. He became a self-made superstar every bit as famous as Elvis Presley or Muhammad Ali, who gave up his body in some of the most daring motorcycle jumps anyone had seen, many of them televised live.
Evel Knievel On Tour covered Knievel’s failed Snake River jump. The author was one of the promoters of that event, and he promoted other events that included an Ali vs. Frazier boxing match. Saltman wrote the book with Knievel’s cooperation, and thought he had done an admiring depiction, albeit an unvarnished one. To that point, Knievel was famous for being on the receiving end of broken bones. That was until the book was published. Knievel, feeling that Saltman bared embarrassing personal details and factual inaccuracies, tracked Saltman to the Fox lot where Saltman was a producer. Evel swung away and Saltman put up his arm to protect himself. His arm shattered, Saltman sued and Knievel was ordered to pay him $12.7 million, a debt he did not settle before passing away. This was just a small chapter in a most fascinating life, and the events were covered in the Johnny Knoxville-produced film Being Evel. The Winters were driving forces behind this project and for Terence Winter, this is his fourth Scorsese project following Boardwalk Empire, The Wolf of Wall Street and Vinyl, the music industry series they’re doing at HBO with Mick Jagger.
CAA and LBI rep Monahan.