Suddenly the world’s gone McQueen crazy.
With both Brad Pitt and Daniel Craig rumoured to be “in talks” to play Steve McQueen in two recently announced biopics, and McQueen’s own screenplay being readied for the screen 27 years after his death, the King of Cool is back.
Producers are looking to cast an untitled biopic based on the book Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel — which looks at his early years in reform school, his affair with Ali McGraw, and his fascination with fast cars and drugs — and second biopic, focusing on his 15-year marriage to Neilie Toffel, is currently being adapted for the screen.
And Yucatan, an action adventure film based on McQueen’s own 1,700-page script and storyboards, is being rewritten for production.
A-list stars even came out to New York’s Lincoln Centre last month for a week of screenings of McQueen’s films and lectures. Norman Jewison and Peter Yates were among co-stars, friends and directors who paid tribute to him.
So why the interests in McQueen?
McQueen, a.k.a. the King of Cool/Bandito, was a hipster Hollywood icon who is still admired for his independent strength and blue-eyed good looks.
“I don’t believe in that phony hero stuff,” he said.
McQueen could be trouble onset. He famously drove co-workers to distraction. He was quiet, tough yet vulnerable and a fighter to the core. He baited and threatened directors and manipulated studio executives with his chronic indecision.
He often began work on a film but feared he was doing the wrong thing and stopped production. “I live for myself and I answer to nobody,” he said.
Even though McQueen was extremely wealthy, he delighted in what he called “hondling,” or the art of acquiring freebies. He charged the studio rental fees for wearing his own clothes and jewelry in films.
He “gave” a swimming pool to disadvantaged children in San Francisco and charged it back to the studio.
McQueen’s salary always included a percentage of the film, which was unusual at that time. He was one of the first actors to earn multimillions per picture — $3 million at his peak — plus pages of perks and riders. It has even been reported he would dream up new ones during production.
Mr. Cool avoided the gossip rags until 1973, when he left his wife and three children for Ali McGraw who was also married. McQueen and McGraw were the Pitt and Angelina Jolie of the day.
Two generations of actors, including Colin Farrell, Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis and Pierce Brosnan, have cited him for inspiring them.
And, if this renewed interested in McQueen continues, another generation is about to have a look at the man who defined the word “cool.”