More than 30 years after his death, a new movie about original SNL cast member and comedy legend John Belushi’s life is in the works. It was announced on that an unlikely young actor has been cast in the lead role: Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer).
Hirsch is an odd choice for a number of reasons. The 28-year-old California native does not physically resemble Belushi (the offspring of Albanian immigrants) all that much. Belushi is known, of course, for his size, with his weight fluctuating between a reported 180 to 230 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame whereas Hirsch is much more slender. Hirsch is also not particularly known for comedies, a majority of his roles have been in dramas. He does, on the other hand, have a lot of experience playing real people. He portrayed skateboarding pioneer Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown, and a character based on an actual drug dealer in Alpha Dog. And after his award-winning turn in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, he appeared opposite Penn as gay rights activist Cleve Jones in the biopic Milk. While the role of Belushi would seem to demand some comic chops, it is a dark and ultimately tragic story that will certainly have dramatic moments.
This isn’t the first Belushi biopic attempt. In the 1989 adaptation of Bob Woodward’s unauthorized biography Wired, Michael Chiklis played Belushi in what was supposed to be a star-making turn, but Belushi’s friends and family members objected so strongly to the film’s portrayal that it actually damaged Chiklis’s career. This new biopic is actually sanctioned by Belushi’s widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, and longtime friend and costar Dan Aykroyd is an executive producer. The film will be written and directed by Steve Conrad, who scripted Ben Stiller’s upcoming The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Other roles, including the part of Aykroyd, have not yet been cast.
Filming will begin next spring, so we’ll have to wait until then to see just how well Hirsch can fill John Belushi’s toga.