Jason Priestley is directing a biopic on Phil Hartman, called “Nice Guy Phil,” with veteran actor Daran Norris starring as the late comedian.
Tyler Levine is producing “Nice Guy Phil” through his Toronto-based Carousel Pictures banner with support from Telefilm Canada and the Cogeco Fund. He’s aiming to go into production next summer.
Jonas Chernick, whose credits include “My Awkward Sexual Adventure” and “Lucid,” has written the screenplay. The project has been in development for several years with the cooperation of Hartman’s estate.
Hartman is best known for his eight seasons on “Saturday Night Live” as a cast member, beginning in 1986. He won an Emmy in 1989 and was gifted in doing impressions of such notables as President Bill Clinton, President Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Ed McMahon, Barbara Bush, Charlton Heston and Phil Donahue.
Harman also starred in the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio” and voiced frequent roles on “The Simpsons” during its first 10 seasons. He was shot and killed by his wife Brynn in 1998, while he slept in their home; she then committed suicide several hours later.
Levine told Variety that the film will explore both the comedy and the emotional challenges that Hartman faced.
“Comedians are notoriously complex people and Phil was no exception,” he added. “Anyone that knew him always says that he was the nicest guy they ever met.”
Priestley said he knew Hartman from his stint as a “Saturday Night Live” host in 1992 at the peak of his fame as Brandon Walsh on the series “Beverly Hills, 90210.” “We stayed in touch and he was always very warm and gracious,” he added.
Priestley came on to direct in the wake of making his feature directorial debut on “Cas and Dylan.” He said that it had been challenging to cast an actor who could convincingly portray Hartman and deliver a wide variety of voices.
“I told a friend, who suggested Daran — who is ideal for the part,” Priestley said. “He looks quite a bit like Phil and he’s an expert at voices.”
Norris campaigned actively for the part, even creating a video of himself performing Hartman’s voices. He has appeared in or voiced characters for more than 400 films, video games and TV shows, including “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and “Veronica Mars.” He voices Cosmo, Jorgen Von Strangle and Mr. Turner in “The Fairly OddParents,” as well as “Knock Out” in Transformers Prime.
Like Hartman, Levine, Priestley and Chernick are Canadian. Norris is a Washington native.
Carousel has been in production on the documentaries “Spotless” and “Population Zero.”
Priestley is represented by APA and Thruline Entertainment.