EXCLUSIVE: Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio are in early discussions to re-team on an epic biopic of Ulysses S. Grant that DiCaprio and Appian Way partner Jeniffer Davisson are producing at Lionsgate. I’m told that Spielberg wants to direct DiCaprio in that role in their first collaboration since the 2002 drama Catch Me If You Can.
Lionstate and Appian Way last November acquired movie rights to Grant, the bestselling Ron Chernow biography that is being adapted by David James Kelly. The writer just worked for Appian Way and Lionsgate on Robin Hood, the Otto Bathurst-directed that stars Taron Egerton in the starring role.
Pinning down a time when these two titans will work together is always a challenge. As Deadline revealed last January, Spielberg set Indiana Jones and West Side Story to be his next two films as his followup to The Post and Ready Player One. DiCaprio, who took time off after the arduous shoot that won him the Best Actor Oscar in The Revenant, next stars in the Quentin Tarantino-directed Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. DiCaprio and Davisson are developing several big star vehicles including the Leonardo Da Vinci project based on the Walter Isaacson book which Paramount set in a seven figure deal as Appian Way moved its deal to the studio. Appian Way and Paramount also have a Teddy Roosevelt film that Scott Bloom is scripting for Martin Scorsese to direct. Separately, there is also a possible collaboration with Scorsese on the David Grann book Killers of the Flower Moon which has a script by Eric Roth for Imperative Entertainment.
Despite this, sources labeled the Grant project a priority. The Penguin Press book has a high pedigree. Chernow is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Washington: A Life, whose Alexander Hamilton was the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony winning musical Hamilton. Chernow is exec producer of Grant.
It provides Spielberg with another interesting way to explore the Civil War, ground he covered in Lincoln. Grant was one of the most complicated military leaders-turned politicians in American history. Down on his luck with failing businesses and a resignation from the army amid accusations of drunkenness, Grant enjoyed a rousing second act as Abraham Lincoln’s most trusted general. He won the battle of Shiloh and the Vicksburg campaign, and defeated the legendary Southern Confederate general Robert E. Lee. His military genius propelled him to two terms in the White House. He was a champion for black Americans and worked to crush the Ku Klux Klan, even as there were scandals involving administration’s leaders. Grant had EKG-like highs and lows even after his presidency, seeing his fortune swindled on Wall Street but resuscitating himself working with Mark Twain on his critically acclaimed memoirs.