Combs to exec produce Searchlight feature

George Tillman Jr. will direct a biopic of hip-hip artist Notorious B.I.G. for Fox Searchlight, while Sean “Diddy” Combs has boarded to exec produce.

Fox Searchlight, which picked up the rights to the project in 1995, commenced a nationwide casting call Sunday, with anyone resembling the slain rapper encouraged to submit a tape whether an actor or not.

Tillman, a longtime Notorious B.I.G. fan, will direct from a script by Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Rock Bythewood. Coker, a hip-hop journalist, penned the biography “Unbelievable: The Life, Death and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G.”

The hip-hop artist, also known as Biggie Smalls but whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was a major figure in the East Coast hip-hop scene before being killed in 1995 in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. His music was heavily influenced by his experience growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, where drugs and violence often dominated.

Combs signed Wallace in 1992 when working at Uptown Records. When Combs was fired shortly thereafter, Wallace followed him to his new label, Bad Boy Records.

Film will focus on the Wallace not seen in public life.

Producing the biopic are Wallace’s mother, Voletta Wallace, and former music managers Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts, as well as Robert Teitel. Film project has been in the works for seven years.

Tillman’s last feature was “Men of Honor” in 2001. He also directed and wrote “Soul Food.”

Fox Searchlight prexy of production Claudia Lewis said the specialty unit has long wanted to work with Tillman.

“We know he will make a brilliant movie and show the true humanity of Christopher Wallace’s character,” Lewis said.

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