Rumored for the role back in May, Josh Gad (Frozen, The Wedding Ringer) is now officially set to play Roger Ebert in the upcoming biopic, Russ & Roger. Originally titled Russ & Roger Go Beyond, the project is scripted by Emmy winner Christopher Cluess (“Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons”) and based on the true story of the unique relationship between Ebert and provocative filmmaker Russ Meyer while they made Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at 20th Century Fox. Will Ferrell is already attached to the Meyer role.
At the end of the ’60s when films like Easy Rider and Bonnie & Clyde were reaching new audiences, Meyer, the outlaw director of soft-core pulp films like Fast Pussycat, Kill, Kill was given the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of directing a studio film by Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox. The studio was struggling with a string of big budget failures and Zanuck thought Meyer was the solution. He offered him Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Meyer agreed on the condition that Ebert, then the third string film critic for the Chicago Sun Times (who had written one of the few positive reviews of his work) would write the script. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls became a struggle between the outsider filmmakers and the establishment studio’s board of directors, particularly over the film’s rating. Meyer, Ebert and Zanuck were ultimately vindicated when Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was released in 1970 to huge box office success.
Meyer and Ebert remained friends until Meyer passed away in September 2004. Ebert passed away in 2013 after a long public battle with cancer.
Gad also appeared this year in the video game-inspired adventure Pixels and recently wrapped production on Walt Disney Pictures’ live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Starring Emma Watson as Belle, Beauty and the Beast hits the big screen March 17, 2017.
Russ & Roger is being produced by Mark Amins’ Sobini Films, David Permuts Permut Presentations and Richard Waltzers Chautauqua Entertainment. Permut, Amin and Waltzer will produce the film with Sobini Films’ Cami Winikoff, Tyler Boehm and David Higgins and Permut Presentations’ Chris Mangano Executive Producing, and Steve Longi Co-producing.