You’ll recall that Oprah shared the news of Epps’ casting on her Instagram page yesterday, and hinted at her involvement in the film as well – although we weren’t certain whether her role would see her in front of, or behind the camera, or both, as she’s done recently on films like “Selma.”
Winfrey will play Marie Carter, Pryor’s grandmother, with whom he had a notoriously complicated relationship with. She ran a brothel, and was quite the dominant matriarch whom Pryor – who grew up in her house, after his mother left – both loved and feared.
As an aside, a few years ago, it was rumored that Oprah Winfrey would play Mama Nadi, the shrewd madame whose bar also functions as a brothel in a film adaptation of Lynn Nottage’s acclaimed play “Ruined.” In 2010, Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama was reportedly heading to the small screen, produced by HBO Films and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. No word on whether that’s still in development.
But back to Richard Pryor…
Mike Epps is said to have blown director Lee Daniels and producers (The Weinstein Company) away with his audition.
Nick Cannon, as well as Michael B. Jordan and Marlon Wayans (who was attached to star in the project before it changed producer hands), were also in contention for the part under Daniels’ direction.
Also, Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway were said to both be in the running to play Jennifer Lee Pryor in the film.
I should note that Mike Epps actually plays Richard Pryor in Cynthia Mort’s still-unreleased Nina Simone film that Zoe Saldana stars in.
It’s also worth noting that, Richard Pryor’s son has threatened legal action in a move to block production on Daniels’ in-development film about the legendary comic. Lawyers representing Richard Pryor, Jr. have reportedly sent a cease and desist letter to Pryor’s (the father’s) widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, who is involved in the making of the film. The letter, obtained by TMZ, insists that all work on the project stop, accusing Jennifer Lee of using “illegal, fraudulent” activity to obtain the rights to her husband’s story. Pryor Jr. is also reportedly threatening to take legal action, if the biopic does moves forward.
No comment yet from Jennifer Lee nor Lee Daniels in response to the son’s statements, but, clearly, with The Weinstein Company attached, I’d say it’s moving forward, with Mike Epps in the staring role, Oprah as his grandmother, Lee Daniels directing, and whoever else is involved at this point that we aren’t aware of.
A rather gutsy choice by Daniels and company, this could be the dramatic catalyst that Epps needs to encourage producers to see him as more than a comedian/comedic actor.
Might we be calling him Oscar nominee Mike Epps in a couple of years?