EXCLUSIVE: Greg Louganis is a gold medal Olympic diving legend, humanitarian and LGBTQ trailblazer — and now his life is getting the big screen treatment. Louganis is teaming with his manager, Greg. H. Sims, of Arya Worldwide Entertainment to develop a feature about his life story with Matthew Wilder (Dog Eat Dog, Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc) writing the screenplay.
Louganis chronicled his life as one of the greatest Olympic divers in history and coming out as an HIV-positive gay man in his book Breaking the Surface which he co-wrote with Eric Marcus. It was released in 1996, became a New York Times bestseller and was later made into a TV movie for the USA Network with Mario Lopez starring as Louganis. In 2015, HBO released the documentary Greg Louganis: Back on the Board which went on to earn an Emmy nomination. Now, with the help of Loeb and Loeb, and lead attorney and partner Irwin Tenenbaum, they have cleared the complicated process of gaining the rights to his story so that Louganis can tell his story with a feature film.
“Initially, I was terrified,” Louganis told Deadline in regards to sharing his story in 1996, a very different time for the perception of HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community. “When that book was coming out, I didn’t know what’s going to happen or how people were going to react.”
It wasn’t until he went on his book tour that he realized the impact his story had on people. ” I felt like I was sharing all of my weaknesses [in the book],” he admitted. “And I realized by sharing my perceived weaknesses I was actually sharing my strength.”
Louganis said that people would come up to him and say that his story saved their lives. The book helped many come out to their parents as gay and share their HIV status with their friends and my family. “It gave them the courage to talk about a lot of things that were taboo to discuss.”
The book not only chronicles his journey of coming out, but it also gives us a look at his record-breaking Olympic victories. He won back-to-back double gold medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics and 1988 Summer Olympics. Even so, he had self-doubt and lacked confidence because he was in the closet. After the TV movie, publishers, networks and distributors had been involved with the story. Sims said that securing Louganis’s own life rights came after a year-long process that established a clear path to the title. Now that it is set, Louganis can tell the story he wants with the feature. “People are going to see me, warts and all,” he said.
The film won’t be a story documenting his entire life. However, he did say they are planning on double casting the lead with a younger and older version of himself. There are so many facets of his life to spotlight, but it will focus on his Olympic career as well as his role as a pioneer from the gay sports community. Many cite LGBTQ Olympians like Gus Kenworthy, Tom Daley and Matthew Mitcham as openly gay Olympians, but many people tend to forget that although he didn’t come out while competing, Louganis blazed that trail for them.
Australian diver Mitcham was cited as the first openly gay athlete to win a gold medal and Louganis said that was a huge feat for him to come out while he was competing. “I admire him because he didn’t feel that he could compete on that high level only sharing a part of himself,” he said. “It’s a totally different perspective than from where my generation would have to deal with.”
When he told those close to him that he was going to come out, they said it was “career suicide.” He said, “My mother was concerned about my safety. I received death threats and all that stuff — but I didn’t hear any consequences that were not too great. The need to come forward was in my heart.”
Louganis continued, “This was the next step for me and it had to be true to myself and as far as my personal progress and not listen to anybody.” He said that it’s hard for people to believe that, despite all his achievements, he went through issues with his self-esteem issues, battling depression and being his “own worst enemy.”
That said, Louganis is more than ready to make this film. “I feel like I’m being accepted as a whole person now, and love that so much of this has happened in the last few years,” he said. “I’m excited to have my story in development and to be made as a feature film – I am thrilled to share my story with a new generation.”
The yet-to-be-titled film’s screenwriter Wilder is best known for writing the aforementioned Dog Eat Dog from Paul Schrader. The films starred Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe and was the closing entry for the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. He recently wrote and directed Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc which will be released this year. Wilder is also set to direct the reboot of the 70’s horror movie The Velvet Vampire and he wrote On the Creation of Earthquakes, a biopic of the Roman senator Seneca which will be directed by Robert Schwentke and star John Malkovich as Seneca. Wilder’s deal was handled by Jon Brown of Ensemble Entertainment.
Sims has produced a long list of indie films including George Clooney’s Red Surf, Return to Horror High, Behind Your Eyes and Touch Me which starred Amanda Peet, Michael Vartan, and featured Louganis in a co-starring role.