Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Fresh from producing the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner Fruitvale, Forest Whitaker has taken over the nearly 20-year effort to bring the turbulent life of stand-up comedy legend Richard Pryor to the big screen. Whitaker is  teaming with the late comedian’s widow, Jennifer Pryor, to produce the film through his Significant Productions shingle. Whitaker will develop a new script with input from Jennifer Pryor, and Significant Productions’ Nina Yang-Bongiovi, will also produce.

The Pryor biopic has been attempted numerous times, and the most recent version had Bill Condon poised to direct Marlon Wayans in the starring role for Sony Pictures, where Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison had set the project. Condon was certainly passionate about Pryor, but everything took a back seat when he signed on to helm the final two Twilight Saga installments. The project languished.

This was just the latest of many prior incarnations. The first was a Martin Scorsese-directed drama to star Damon Wayans, this well before Pryor died in 2005. Later, there was a Showtime pic that was to star Eddie Griffin and another attempt at a feature that was to star Mike Epps with Kasi Lemmons directing. Condon’s first flirtation had Eddie Murphy briefly interested, and then Chris Rock was briefly in the conversation. Pryor had an unbelievable life, from growing up in a brothel, rising to become comedy’s biggest stage star, pushing the envelope on an edgy TV show that was subversive and ahead of its time, transitioning to film stardom, and nearly dying when he accidentally ignited himself while freebasing cocaine.

Who best to play Pryor now? Most of those aforementioned actors are too old, though Marlon Wayans could still do it. While Whitaker needs to get a script and a director first, he might well look closely at his Fruitvale star, Michael B. Jordan, who by all accounts crushed it in that film. Jordan, who grew up playing roles in The Wire and Friday Night Lights before starring in Chronicle, certainly has the charisma and should be established enough as the lead on a modestly budgeted film after The Weinstein Company releases Fruitvale later this year.

Whitaker is represented by WME and Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Jennifer Pryor is represented by Kaye-Scholer, LLP.

Get Deadline news and alerts sent to your inbox.