EXCLUSIVE: HBO is no stranger to shining a light on some of Hollywood’s most fascinating people, and it is now setting its sights on spotlighting the person created one of the world’s most beloved characters. Sources tell Deadline that HBO Documentary Films is in production on a two-part documentary about the life of Paul Reubens, the man behind Pee-wee Herman.
A co-production between HBO Documentary Films and Elara, the film will be produced by Uncut Gems directors Josh and Benny Safdie, their partner Sebastian Bear-McClard as well as Joker producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff. Matt Wolf is directing.
“I’ve been working with HBO since they were called Home Box Office,” said Reubens. “I’m honored and excited to continue my long history there. I love HBO, but I’m not going to marry them.”
A kaleidoscopic portrait told in two parts, the Reubens documentary traces the life of the imaginative artist behind one of pop culture’s most unlikely icons: Pee-wee Herman.
“I’m thrilled to partner with HBO on Paul’s incredible life story,” said Tillinger Koskoff. “He is a once-in-a-generation talent whose brilliance created an indelible pop culture phenomenon. Audiences will be inspired and entertained by Paul’s creativity, resilience and determination as they get to know the person behind the iconic character.”
Starting as an improvisational comedian and stage actor with the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe The Groundlings in the 1970s, Reubens’ big break came when he introduced the world to the Herman character in 1982 in a comedy show in Los Angeles. The show would sell out for five straight months, with HBO producing a special around one of the performances, launching Reubens’ career.
Over the next decade Reubens would appear as the Herman character in two movies: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), which was directed by Tim Burton, and Big Top Pee-wee (1988). Reubens and the character hit their true peak when CBS gave the greenlight to the Saturday morning show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which ran from 1986-90. Any child growing up at that time fondly remembers the show not only for the fun energy Reubens brought to the character but the knowledge and education it provided to kids in a Sesame Street sort of way.
“We all know Pee-wee Herman; it’s time for the world to meet Paul Reubens,” said Wolf. “I can’t wait to share his story.”
Sources say the documentary is expected to focus not only on the Herman years but also include Reubens’ post-Pee-wee decades when he put the bow-tie away to focus on acting in projects that included Ben Stiller’s Mystery Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Blow opposite Johnny Depp.
Reubens eventually would bring Herman out of retirement in 2016 in the Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which had Reubens fan Judd Apatow producing.
Given how private Reubens has been over the years, this will mark the first film that will document his life, and given the early ties he has with HBO, it makes sense that it be the one to tell his story to the world.
Reubens is represented by Stewart Talent and Brecheen Feldman Breimer Silver Thompson.