The project been out there before, but there’s been some buzz now that Russell Crowe himself said to an Australian paper than he’s working with a writer on a biopic about legendary outlaw comedian Bill Hicks.
My first thought, and perhaps yours as well, when I heard this was “Hmm. Can I think of a role where I thought Crowe was particularly funny?”
Nope. As always, I can see that as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Obviously we have no idea if portraying someone as darkly funny as Hicks is in Crowe’s wheelhouse but if it is, what an explosive and enjoyable surprise it’ll be. Another advantage, Hicks, though a funny man, wasn’t a clown. He’s a serious figure in comedy and probably the kind of comic who’d be a great fit for a more dramatic actor.
But what makes me optimistic is that Crowe and his screenwriters seem to want to work closely with those who knew Hicks best, specifically Hicks’ frequent collaborator Kevin Booth. Here’s a clip from a syndicated radio show hosted by Alex Jones where Kevin talks a bit about the film. The Hicks stuff starts at about two minutes in. (If you’re a Hicks diehard, the metaphorical “burning of Rome” talk that surrounds it may be something you’ll appreciate as well.)
That March of 09 date mentioned in the clip seems a little more unlikely, as Crowe’s next film Nottingham has been delayed in shooting. And of course, still no script.
Crowe must have felt pretty confident about his ability to portray Hicks to actually consider it being the equivalent to a concert film, but fictionalized. I assume that’s what is meant by “performance piece.” I’m glad that they are going a bit more traditional route however - seeing something like that would just make we wonder why they didn’t release an actual Bill Hicks concert film. It’s a approach that rings of (probably mistaken) hubris.
There are some pitfalls to a more traditional take of course… I fear the story would focus far too much on Hicks’ last year of life as he became sick and ultimately died from pancreatic cancer. It’s certainly a big element of his life, but Hicks was not a big walking statement on cancer. I’m not even sure if he ever did any stand-up material on it. (Anyone more versed in Hicks’ oeuvre want to enlighten me?) Any HIcks story should celebrate how he lived, not dwell on his death.