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Through its intoxicating mix of bizarre characters, true crime, and wild animals, Netflix's engrossing new docu-series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is proving to be a huge hit for the streaming service. In the days since its premiere, people have been talking breathlessly about the stranger-than-fiction tale, one that involves all sorts of scandalous individuals, and it's only a matter of time before Joe Exotic's life gets (even more) dramatized on the big screen.
There are already plans in place for a limited TV series with Kate McKinnon to play Carole Baskin, Exotic's sworn enemy, but it would hardly be surprising if Hollywood jumped at the chance to make a biopic for the big screen as well. If/when that day comes, we have a few actors in mind who would be a great fit to play Joe Exotic. I'm also going to suggest some ideal directors to oversee each actor's take on the role.
If there's one actor in particular that I truly believe would be pitch-perfect for the role of Joe Exotic, it's Michael Keaton. The Oscar-nominated actor is known for playing a variety of characters, though his roles playing manic goofballs like Beetlejuice, Riggan Thomson in Birdman, and (arguably) Batman in the Tim Burton movies suggest that he has what it takes to really sink his teeth into this meaty role. He has the body language, the demeanor, and the wild-and-out desire to really relish this part. Hell, Keaton even looks like Joe Exotic. Just put a mullet on his noggin and a wild animal (safely) by his side and you're basically set. Keaton can also channel intimation and indignation well, which will lend itself well to Joe's bitter feud with Carole Baskin.
Who Could Direct: Alejandro G. Inarritu, John Lee Hancock, Lorene Scafaria, Joel & Ethan Coen
Through his cool, effortless charisma, as well as his habit for playing characters who don't necessary beat to the same drum as other folks in common society, Matthew McConaughey would be a wonderful fit for Joe Exotic. The A-list actor, known for playing drug-addled characters who can be bizarre, unconventional, and prone to criminal behavior, appears in award-friendly movies, broader, more mainstream affairs, and off-kilter arthouse films alike. It's reasonable to assume that McConaughey could play any sort of Joe Exotic for any type of director. Whether he tapped into his Beach Bum energy, or he went for something more along the lines of Dallas Buyers Club, or he even went the way of Magic Mike, McConaughey would certainly be alright.
Who Could Direct: Harmony Korine, Richard Linklater, Yann Demange, Jean-Marc Vallee
When it comes to hyper-masculine man-children with little regard for anyone other than themselves, Danny McBride has made a career out of these type of barrel-chested weirdo characters. Whether it's Kenny Powers on Eastbound & Down, Fred Simmons in The Foot Fist Way, or Jesse Gemstone in The Righteous Gemstones, McBride is prone to playing overly-confident wannabe alpha males with delusions of grandeur as well as bold facial hair choices. He'd be a natural fit for Joe Exotic. Of course, if McBride doesn't land this part, he shouldn't feel discouraged. We could see McBride being a variety of people seen in Tiger King. It's a smorgasbord of McBride-esque characters. If Exotic doesn't come to be, he should absolutely be considered for Doc Antle, another overzealous wildlife enthusiast prominently seen throughout Tiger King.
Who Could Direct: Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, Danny McBride
Much like his friend Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson jumps between movies both big and small, playing assorted characters with a variety of oddball traits. But it's the roles where the maniacal glee comes out in his eye that stand out the most. Whether it's The People vs. Larry Flint, Natural Born Killers, or the Zombieland movies, to name a few, Harrelson has a history of playing outlandish personalities (some based on real people) with a predilection for getting into dangerous, even criminal activities. Certainly, that fits the bill here. As many folks saw in Tiger King, Joe Exotic has lived a wildcard life, filled with reckless behavior, political stunts, and criminal allegations. Harrelson could do wonders with that checkered personality. He also can convey threatening menace and unhinged fury that's certainly beneficial for darker moments in Exotic's story.
Who Could Direct: Oliver Stone, Ruben Fleischer, Lorene Scafaria
Certainly among our most talented working actors, if not always the easiest person to get along with, Edward Norton is an exceptionally versatile, gifted performer who plays parts both charming and intimidating, relatable or completely off-putting. He has the range to perform dramatic and comedic roles — though he typically picks the former over the latter. He likes to challenge himself readily and often, but he's notorious for wanting things to go his way. Sure enough, these qualities fused together could play well for Joe Exotic. The outlandish, larger-than-life egomaniac would be (slightly) different than what we usually see from Norton, yet his comedic roles in Death to Smoochy, Birdman, Moonrise Kingdom, and Leaves of Grass suggest he has what it takes to savor it. Plus, on Twitter, he expressed his interest in the role.
Who Could Direct: Joel & Ethan Coen, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny DeVito, Edward Norton
Of all the choices listed thus far, Will Ferrell might be the biggest wild card. He doesn't look the part and there's a chance that the comedy star might push it too far. But, much like Danny McBride, his history of playing prideful, goofy, and overly-confident men-children with little in the way of self-awareness makes him an enjoyable fit for Joe Exotic. Particularly when it comes to movies like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Old School, Blades of Glory, and Zoolander, among many others, Ferrell likes to play outlandish personalities — often with strange, singular looks — who resort to acts of indecent behavior, aggressive yelling, and other forms of crude debauchery. It's easy to imagine Ferrell, dressed up in absurd attire with a wild animal, pointing at a camera and shouting something like, "I'm coming for you, Carole!" He'd definitely make the part his own.
Who Could Direct: Adam McKay
In the vein of making it a broad comedy, if Hollywood really wanted to turn Joe Exotic's life story into a wild farce, David Spade might be the man to do it. The comedic actor, formerly of SNL, made a career of playing the straight-laced, dry-witted sarcastic commenter in the room. But in the early '00s, it was clear that Spade wanted to branch out a bit. Rather than play the smart guy, Spade willfully wanted to be the goofy doofus, as notably seen in his title role in Joe Dirt and its streaming-exclusive sequel. Certainly, Spade playing Joe Exotic the way he played Joe Dirt might not necessarily win him an Academy Award, but it might help the movie gain a cult following. Most certainly, it would give Spade his biggest, most prominent acting role in awhile.
Who Could Direct: Dennie Gordon, Fred Wolf, Peter Segal
BONUS: Dax Shepard
Since he's a bit less established on the big screen as some of the other actors listed in this article, there's a good chance that Dax Shepard might not get his chance to play the part of Joe Exotic, should a feature film be made — though that certainly won't be for a lack of trying. The film/TV actor expressed his desire to play the Tiger King himself on Twitter, saying that "Hollywood is broken" if he doesn't get picked for the role. And it's easy to see why he'd be so adamant about playing the role. The gun-toting, broadly outspoken wildlife enthusiast/criminal is the sort of wild-and-out role that Shepard tends to play. While he's a bit young to play the currently 57-year-old documentary subject, he does have the enthusiasm and earnest desire to make the part his own, which might go a long way.
Who Could Direct: Bob Odenkirk, Mike Judge, Dax Shepard
This poll is no longer available.
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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