NEW YORK — After a monthlong courtship, Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider and Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer have landed Curtis Hanson to direct a Scott Silver-scripted project about a young rapper that will be played by Eminem. The rapper will also perform songs he’ll write with his mentor, Dr. Dre.
It is a surprise that Eminem will make his acting debut guided by Hanson. While Hanson’s two most recent pics, “L.A. Confidential” and “Wonder Boys,” were not financial blockbusters, they drew critical kudos that put Hanson at the front of the line for plum scripts and top actors.
Hanson said he chose the project because the script from Silver (“The Mod Squad”) had more power and potential than anything he’d read since the Steve Kloves-scripted “Wonder Boys.”
“I saw here an opportunity to make a serious movie about the emotional struggles of contemporary adolescents in this country,” said Hanson. “This captures the angst, insecurity, frustration and anger, search for direction and identity. That to me is what the best version of this movie is all about.”
The pic’s protagonist is, like Eminem, a troubled kid from Detroit who finds his voice in hip-hop. The story and embellishments are fictional.
“Detroit has historically been the industrial center of the country, and it’s perfect for a look at kids flailing about, with an apparent lack of opportunity, no place to go and no support, with a lack of structure and family support and apparent hopelessness,” said Hanson. “It’s somehow universal, with people finding a way to express themselves.”
Imagine’s Grazer said, “If you get beyond the vulgarity and to the heartbeat of the lyrics, they are about really powerful subjects. Curtis thrives on challenging different genres.”
Interscope Records president Jimmy Iovine will also be a producer.
Hanson was unconcerned that Eminem’s notoriety and his newness to acting would weigh down the film.
“Working with actors is what I like best about directing and Eminem is an extraordinarily gifted artist, one who’s already shown an ability to project personas and identities,” said Hanson. “Helping him adapt his talents to the screen is one of the things about this project that excites me, so it’s a positive, not a negative. This story will only be as good as Eminem’s performance, not how good he is as a musical performer but how he good he is dramatically.”
Noting the strong work of rappers-turned-actors such as LL Cool J, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, the UTA-repped Hanson said he believes Eminem will rise to the challenge as well.
Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) has been a lightning rod for controversy particularly from his foulmouthed lyrics and legal miscues. The notoriety, though, has had several studios vying for his acting services in villain roles — Warner Bros. is said to be circling a proposed pairing with rapper DMX in a drama called “Lazarus.”