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Brian Grazer Reveals Why Spike Lee Was Replaced By Tate Taylor To Direct James Brown Biopic

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 16, 2013 at 1:23PM

Recapping what we've known until today...
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James Brown in Alex Gibney's "Mr. Dynamite."
James Brown in Alex Gibney's "Mr. Dynamite."

Recapping what we've known until today...

First Spike Lee spent years trying to get his Jackie Robinson project financed and produced (unsuccessfully), only to eventually watch Legendary Pictures and Brian Helgeland launch their own Jackie Robinson picture, with Chadwick Boseman starring (scheduled to be released in 2013).

And then it was announced in October that Spike would have to, once again, sit back and watch (this time) Tate Taylor (director of The Help) helm a James Brown biopic, with super producer Brian Grazer producing, and Mick Jagger joining Grazer as producer.

You'll recall that a film based on the life of the singer has long been in the works, with Spike Lee directing, and Brian Grazer overseeing the production. Obviously, something happened, since Spike is no longer attached to direct, but Brian Grazer is still on to produce.

In the October post announcing the director change, we all wondered what could've happened that inspired the director change; now, 3 months later, we have our answer.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, posted on their website this morning, producer Brian Grazer was asked that question specifically. Here's the section of the interview where it's all addressed:

RS: What happened with Spike Lee, who was said to be directing the original movie project before Brown's death?

BG: He was the choice when I had the rights. I had just produced Inside Man with him. 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.

RS: When it was announced that Lee was no longer involved and that a white director, Tate Taylor, was on board, the blogosphere went nuts. How do you respond to those comments?

BG: What would I say? I view that a bunch of different ways. Mick and I don't see the world that way. I started my career making Boomerang and CB4. I've made so many movies where I've supported black artists. Tate made The Help, and that had almost an entirely black population. I just want to try to make the best movie.

RS: Were you surprised by those reactions?

BG: Well, I didn't read them! I can't make movies like that, where I'm going to look at some blog and change the course of the whole movie. I also think Mick is so amazing. For him to decide he's going to participate and split half the money – he's a man of integrity, and I feel pretty good about that.

Well, after reading all that, what I gather from his response is that the choice for who to direct was out of his control, after James Brown died, and the rights issues became more complicated as they now fell under a different set of rights holders, who, we can assume, didn't want Spike Lee to direct.

Is that what you read in all this as well?

He adds that the world was different then, and now movies have to be made cheaper. Does that mean we can also infer that Spike's asking fee was higher than Tate Taylor's? Or the budget for Spike's version of the film was more than what financiers were willing to spend on a Spike Lee-directed film about James Brown?

So, while we get answers we didn't have before, the answers themselves raise even more questions, which means, even more speculation.

In the interview, Grazer reveals how much of a James Brown fan he is, and how long he's been trying to get the project off the ground (12 years since he bought the rights), as well as how much of his own money he's invested in it thus far ($2 million). He also shares that, at one point, Al Sharpton was a consultant on the movie.

And as for whether James Brown (whom Grazer said he met several times while he was alive, and even discussed the project) was at all concerned about a warts and all telling of his life story on film, Grazer said he seemed OK with that.

And finally, with regards to casting, Grazer says they haven't decided yet, but are about to begin the process of testing/auditioning actors, and believes they'll likely be looking at a lot of actors before they find the right one.

You might recall that, at one point, Wesley Snipes was Spike's man for the starring job, but my guess is that Wesley's tax problems meant a change in plans.

In fact, as recently as 2009, it seemed like the project was as close to a sure-thing as any can get, with Spike saying in an interview with MTV News, "We're doing it together – it's going to happen... He’s my man."

He was referring to Wesley Snipes in that quote back in January 2009 (S&A hadn't been born yet).

Spike added that he intended to use James Brown's "authentic voice" during for any musical sequences in the film; essentially, Wesley would lip-synch.

Years later since that interview, little seemed to have further developed on the project, and it looked like it was dead.

In a 2011 interview, James Brown's daughter, Dr. Yamma Brown, said that the family was considering Eddie MurphyChris BrownUsher to star in the Godfather of Soul’s biopic - an announcement which, as I recall, took a lot of you by surprise.

Whether or not any of the above gentlemen are still being considered, or if there are others, we'll find out eventually; although, I doubt it.

As I've said before, go with an unknown - definitely not a star.

The screenplay has been penned by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (they wrote the script for Fair Game, the Naomi Watts and Sean Penn film).

The full Rolling Stone interview is HERE.


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