Russell Crowe set to direct biopic of controversial comic Bill Hicks

Biopics in general seem to be incredibly difficult to make work.  The biggest problem is that anyone who lived a life interesting enough to be turned into a film probably also lived a life that is too dense to be boiled down to two hours in a way that is both dramatically satisfying and narratively engaging.

When Bill Hicks was still alive and working, I thought he was one of the few of his contemporaries who was willing to use stand-up comedy as more than just a short-cut to a network sitcom.  Since his death, though, Hicks has become a somewhat messianic figure to his fans, and they’ve managed to package, repackage, and re-re-re-release every single second of his recorded comedy.  They have strip-mined everything he left behind, with “American: The Bill Hicks Story” representing the most complete and insightful look at him and his work so far.

It makes sense that this news would break first in the UK, since Hicks had more commercial success there during his life than he did in America, and the UK has been a big part of keeping his legend alive in the years since.  The Telegraph ran a few quotes today from Mark Staufer, who is credited as the screenwriter for the proposed project, and it sounds like they’re close to wrapping up development and moving into actual production near the start of 2013.

I am completely unfamiliar with Staufer, and he’s got no credits I can find anywhere.  The Telegraph article says he was a school friend of Crowe’s, so this sounds like something that’s come together on a personal level and not as a development deal where Crowe was just brought in as a gun for hire.  The most deranged thing in the article was the suggestion that Crowe originally considered playing Hicks.  I can think of no worse casting possible.  Crowe is a good actor, sometimes even a great actor, but he as built a career out of appearing to be completely and utterly humorless.  I’m having a hard enough time imagining how he’d direct a movie about Hicks, much less how he’d play him.

Still, there is something about the Hicks story that is compelling, and there’s a chance that they could use his untimely death as an interesting ticking clock around which to structure a look at his development as an artist.  We’ll see if this ever actually makes it from script to screen, and if so, what role Crowe ultimately plays either in front of or behind the camera.