EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company is ready to greenlight its Richard Pryor biopic, and my, have Harvey Weinstein and Lee Daniels put together a terrific cast. The new additions: Oprah Winfrey will play Pryor’s grandmother, who ran a brothel and raised the iconic comic there; Eddie Murphy will play Pryor’s father, Leroy “Buck Carter” Pryor. Kate Hudson is set to play Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor. And Mike Epps is now locked to play Pryor, a role coveted by a lot of actors. Daniels, who worked with Weinstein and Winfrey on the blockbuster Lee Daniels’ The Butler, will start production in March, after wrapping up the second season of his hit Fox series Empire.
The script is by Bill Condon and Daniels’ Empire collaborator Danny Strong, and Bruce Cohen and Jennifer Lee Pryor are deeply involved in the process as producers. There are compelling storylines that will create interest in this film beyond Pryor’s barrier-breaking accomplishments on the standup stage, on TV and in the movies with his politically charged, blue humor. Winfrey is very particular in the roles she plays–The Butler and Selma were the last two–and it is unexpected that she will play the brothel owner Marie Carter, who raised Pryor in a house of ill repute, where her own daughter and Pryor’s biological mother worked. The involvement of Murphy is also intriguing. He essentially assumed the mantle of groundbreaking standup comedian from Pryor.
The emergence of Epps was not unexpected, but it is hard not to like his backstory on this one. Deadline revealed in 2014 that Epps had emerged as the likely choice after a killer audition, one that was done for Daniels when Epps was competing against a crop of actors that included Michael B. Jordan, Marlon Wayans and Nick Cannon. Epps and Wayans each won the role in previous incarnations of the film, with Wayans set in the version at Sony when Condon was directing and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison was producing. Epps won the job back in 2005, when the iconic Pryor was alive and involved in putting together the film through Indigo Productions, the banner he had with his wife.
Back then, Walter Hill, who helmed Murphy’s star-making turn in 48 HRS, was going to direct and co-write the script. I reached Epps back in 2014, and he was completely humbled by this whole long process. “I met Richard and felt like I was in Oz the whole time,” Epps said told me of his first go-around with this movie. “It’s hard to describe what he means to me or any standup comic. You could say he’s paid the dues for everything we do up there.” When Epps met Pryor, he was wheelchair bound from multiple scleroris, and he died shortly after. Jennifer Lee Pryor hung in there as this film got close several times and then stalled. It’s hard to imagine in her wildest dreams the cast that is actually going to bring her late husband’s incredible story to the screen.
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