Battle of the biopics - A-listers star in competing films about their favorite legends

By Missy Schwartz and Allison Hope Weiner
Updated April 16, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
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She lived fast, sang her heart out, and OD’d at 27. Now, more than 30 years later, Janis Joplin is one hot Hollywood heroine. Renee and Pink (no last name needed; no last name period) are playing the raspy-voiced rocker in two separate biographies. The pair of pics represent the latest in Hollywood groupthink, with studios cueing up dueling projects on warriors, authors, and shorties. If history is any indication — remember Frida Kahlo? — one project will self-destruct. Here’s a breakdown:

1 Janis Joplin

FAVORITE The Gospel According to Janis, starring Pink

Even with the rights to Joplin’s music and the Joplin family seal of approval, producers couldn’t get this party started till pop wild child Pink signed on last week. Recalls producer Peter Newman of his first meeting with the singer: ”She got six inches from my face and said, ‘There is no f — -ing person in the world who can play Janis Joplin other than me.”’ One screen test later, he was convinced. Directed by Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World), the pic starts production in Louisiana and Canada this summer. ”Pink’s got the acting ability and that element of being on the edge,” says Newman. ”It’s also scary how close her vocal performances are to Janis’.”

UNDERDOG Paramount’s Piece of My Heart, starring Renee Zellweger

In development for eight years, Heart seemed to get the jolt it needed when Zellweger, a Joplin fan from the singer’s home state of Texas, signed on to produce and star last June. But with Zellweger shooting The Cinderella Man opposite Russell Crowe this summer, a start date is a long way off. (Paramount declined to comment.) Plus, producers have rights to just one major Joplin hit (the title track), so it’s unclear how they’ll handle concert scenes.

BOTTOM LINE Pink may be a thespian newbie, but she’s no stranger to rock & roll.

2 Alexander the Great

FAVORITE Alexander, starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie; directed by Oliver Stone

The $150 million movie wrapped in February for a November release. Says Stone of the rivalry: ”It was a distraction. Not that I know I succeeded, but our movie did end up getting made.”

UNDERDOG Baz Luhrmann’s Alexander project, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman

Luhrmann told EW in August 2003 that he did not intend to race against Stone, whose film will likely be in theaters before Luhrmann’s is even in production. David Hare is at work on the script, which a source says is ”due any day.”

BOTTOM LINE Whatever the outcome for Stone, Luhrmann’s in for a helluva battle.

3 Napoleon

FAVORITE The Monster of Longwood, starring Al Pacino

Set to begin production this fall, Longwood deals with the diminutive emperor’s relationship with adolescent Betsy Balcombe. After a reading last fall between Pacino and the film’s then costar, Scarlett Johansson, producer Zvi Howard Rosenman questioned whether the actress was too old to play 14-year-old Betsy. Rosenman claims Johansson and her mother/manager, Melanie, then shopped the same story to Lions Gate Films. ”They went with our first writer, Rebecca Kennedy, and said they’re coming up with a new story,” Rosenman laughs. ”It’s stupefying beyond belief.”


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