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Starts out as an underappreciated editor at Esquire. Accrues massive bank loan to fund Playboy Magazine. Becomes icon to all men of a certain era. Earns feminist blowback. Parties all day and all night. Turns his mansion into a bacchanalian sex den for celebrities. Gives off empire to his daughter. Becomes creepy old man who dates multiple, much-younger women at once. Becomes a reality TV star. Never gets out of his bathrobe. The Hugh Hefner story kind of writes itself.
And now Variety reports that Warner Bros. is moving ahead on that story, hiring David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) to direct. Previously the film was set up for years at Universal, but they just couldn’t make it work. Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment was involved, and skeevy Brett Ratner was attached for awhile, but nothing came of it, and the project, then titled Playboy, never came to fruition. Picked up in turnaround last year, the film found new steam when writer Peter Morgan came aboard. Morgan is no stranger to biopics, having written films like Rush, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic.
Dobkin is a mercurial sort who has bounced around Hollywood for a good length of time. His first film, Clay Pigeons, was a moody crime comedy that nonetheless provided an excellent time capsule for how exciting and threatening a young, sexy Vince Vaughn could be, and how the seeds for Joaquin Phoenix’s currently-combative public personality were planted. Dobkin became a director-for-hire on Shanghai Knights (actually a superior sequel) before landing the megahit Wedding Crashers. Unfortunately, re-teaming with Vaughn a third time led to his goodwill being spent on Fred Claus, and a return to bad-boy comedy yielded the maligned The Change Up. Because you fail upwards in Hollywood, his next effort is The Judge, where he gets to direct Robert Downey Jr., arguably the hottest star in Hollywood right now.
Downey might rejoin with Dobkin on this project if the stars align. Both he and Hugh Jackman have been linked to the Hefner role in the past. They’re going to need someone who can appear classy and crassy for this role, someone who dares to make the acting decision to never get dressed after breakfast and cavort with beautiful naked women. It’s the role that aspiring actors all struggle to capture, and surely only the most dedicated could bring the part to life. But Hefner wasn’t all cheesecake. The guy was a crusader for free speech and hosted the show Playboy After Dark, which allowed him the chance to showcase a number of major acts on television. He made history by showcasing James Brown, in an era where black musicians generally were not welcome on screens. Yes, that was less than 50 years ago, kids. The times, they are a’changin’ not fast enough.
Jerry Weintraub (Ocean’s Eleven) is producing this project, which has no title but now carries a stronger momentum than ever before. If the pieces come together soon, a 2015 release is likely.