EXCLUSIVE: It’s a project that has gotten the attention of some top directors and actors looking to bring the story of the larger-than-life actor Steve McQueen to the big screen. And now, the project — McQueen — has secured financing and will move forward. Director James Gray (The Immigrant) and his Immigrant co-star Jeremy Renner have circled the project as have other A-listers. Others who have been talked about or expressed interest in the past have been Channing Tatum and Ryan Gosling. First things first, however. Financing has come together through a deal that was just made between Lake Forest Entertainment and The Exchange. The curiosity and interest around town comes from a unique story that is being kept under wraps about McQueen’s life that he wrote about at the time of his death in his own hand.
The Exchange and Lake Forest have teamed to produce the biopic of the movie star which will be partly based on the 2010 biography Steve McQueen: The Life And Legend Of A Hollywood Icon, written by Marshall Terrill. The author spent 10 years doing research for the book which follows the actor’s life from small beginnings in the Midwest (Indianapolis) to Hollywood to his death at the age of 50 in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico from a heart attack after cancer surgery. McQueen was one of the first of Hollywood’s elite to look into alternative therapy to battle cancer.
The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea and Jeff Bowler (head of acquisitions) will produce with Graham Kaye’s Lake Forest. The Exchange (Spectacular Now, Obvious Child) will also be handling foreign and domestic sales. McQueen marks Lake Forest’s first project. They will be hiring a screenwriter soon.
“[There is a diary] that was kept by his nurse in Mexico who gave it to the author of the book that was done on him by Marshall Terrill,” said Kaye. “Something happened in McQueen’s life that has been kept secret for a long time. We think we have a very interesting way into this story.”
Terrill said he had been offered options on the book since the 1990s. With Kaye, he had a serious passion for the project and he has literally been working on this night and day 24/7 for the last couple of years,” said Terrill. “He brings a passion and knows the ins and outs of Hollywood. He wants this to be a piece of art. He wants to produce a beautiful film on the life of an icon.”
McQueen, who came across on screen as one of the coolest stars of his time and definitely was the highest paid, was a passionate, hard-driving, quick tempered rebel of a guy who had married three times, once to actress Ali McGraw (his co-star in The Getaway). He loved women, cars, motorcycles and auto racing. He once famously said, “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.” Another quote also encapsulated McQueen’s spirit: “I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than any city on Earth.”
Biopics also are some of the most successful of film projects with audiences. “We’re figuring out how to tell the story now. It won’t be the obvious biopic,” said O’Shea. “I worked on Monster and Drive and one of the things we’re going to follow is his authenticity; he was just himself. I think that is why so many people are interested in this project. He was the king of cool. The most commercial thing is authenticity and honesty. And I think that emanates from him and what made him so relevant. I think that is why directors and actors have been asking about it.”
McQueen’s film career spanned 22 years with an Oscar nomination coming in 1967 for Best Actor in director Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles, however many thought his work in Papillon in 1974 was some of his greatest. He is best known, perhaps, for movies such as Bullitt (1968), director Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway (1972), director Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and The Great Escape (1962).
He grew up hard after his father abandoned his mother and then he ended up in California and in a home for troubled youth. He eventually moved to New York and got into acting via Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio. He and Strasberg didn’t get along and he left abruptly. He was mentored mostly through his first acting teacher Sanford Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre (also in New York).
He ended up becoming one of the top box office draws in Hollywood during the 1960s and 1970s, along with Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and Burt Reynolds (thanks to his Smokey And The Bandit films). In fact, he rose to the level of having a lot of pull as to which actresses should be in his films. At that time, there were few actresses that could draw audiences based on their names alone. Just a bit of trivia: His grandson Steve R. McQueen is also an actor (The Vampire Diaries).
Interestingly, McQueen once said that if anyone ever made a movie of his life they should probably call it “The Great Escape” because it was the analogy for his life. He had escaped a hard childhood being brought up with no father, he had escaped a life of little direction and found a passion in acting, he could not escape his anger issues, and fought hard to escape cancer. At the end of his life, after a surgeon had removed a horrible pain-inducing tumor from his abdomen, he seemed to be doing OK when he suddenly died of a heart attack.
The book option was acquired a year ago from Terrill by Lake Forest via a friendship that had evolved five years earlier with Marshall and Graham. Kaye approached Terrill and pitched him his idea for a unique and edgy story that was vastly different than any take he had heard before.
Lake Forest Entertainment LLC’s production executives Elliott Michael Smith, Jensen Kaye, Will Clevinger, and James Tuverson will all be working on McQueen. The company is a big help to many independent filmmakers, having previously acquired Dear White People, Under The Electric Sky and dropped out of selling the title Midnight Rider internationally after the tragedy. The Exchange’s O’Shea and Bowler negotiated the deal with former William Morris agent Kaye and Smith from Lake Forest.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.