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James Brown Biopic in the Works After Legal Hurdle

James Brown
Erik S. Lesser, Getty Images

The incredible life story and music of James Brown is finally coming to the big screen. After years of legal wrangling between Brown’s estate and Hollywood producer Brian Grazer, the project has been given the green light.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Grazer discussed some of the challenges he faced with trying to develop the film. The James Brown biopic has gone through several changes since the project was announced in 2006.

Initially, Spike Lee was to direct the film with Wesley Snipes tapped to play the Godfather of Soul. When Snipes went to prison for tax evasion, fellow actor Eddie Murphy was rumored to play the late soul icon.

Grazer says he invested $2 million of his own money into the project before Brown’s death in 2008. “I had the rights for a very long time, from about 12 years ago,” he said. “And when James Brown died, the rights became more complicated, and I lost them. I had already developed a great script by the Butterworths, but it all came unglued.”

So far, rock icon Mick Jagger is onboard as a producer and filmmaker Tate Taylor (‘The Help’) was hired to direct the movie. When asked why Lee wasn’t attached to the project anymore, the producer cited financial restrictions as the reason.

“He was the choice when I had the rights. I had just produced ‘Inside Man’ with him,” he explains. “When the rights left me, I didn’t have any control, and I couldn’t make director choices. So when it came later with new people and new rights holders, we weren’t doing it with Spike Lee anymore. The world was different then. Now you have to make movies for less money.”

No lead actors have been cast to portray Brown as of yet. In the meantime, Grazer feels the story of James Brown needs to be shown on the big screen.

“I like to make movies about mastery and genius, and it’s hard to find great subjects. And James Brown is a visually dynamic subject,” he says. “On the most visceral level, he sings and dances, and the performance of that contributes to defining him as the hardest working man in showbiz. Dancing impacts audiences in another way.”

Who do you think should play James Brown? Tell us in the comments below.

Watch James Brown’s Performance on ‘Soul Train’

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