Erik Larson’s acclaimed novel The Devil in the White City is getting another shot at the big screen, this time with the help of Leonardo DiCaprio and his Appian Way shingle.
DiCaprio is attached to star and will produce with his Appian Way partner Jennifer Killoran, along with Double Feature principals Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher.
The Devil in the White City spent three years on the New York Times bestseller list, has sold 2.3 million copies and has been translated into 17 languages.
The nonfiction story focuses on the lives of two men who turned the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair into their playground. One man, Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, in a short period of time was forced to overcome immense obstacles to construct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. The other, H.H. Holmes, was a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair. Holmes devised and erected the World’s Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims to their death.
DiCaprio is to play the murder-minded Holmes.
White City has long captivated Hollywood’s top talent, although the period setting always seemed to pose budgetary roadblocks. Kathryn Bigelow was attached to direct and produce at one point, and Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner were also developing an adaptation.
Paramount was the home of the book until 2004, when it let the option lapse, but then it re-optioned it in 2007 for Double Feature to produce.
The project lapsed again, although Double Feature still hung on to the book. Right now, it has no studio home or financing, although DiCaprio’s involvement may change that sooner than later.
“I think that a guy who is that intelligent and that charismatic is nothing less than complex, and it’s that complexity that (DiCaprio) is drawn to,” said Killoran about DiCaprio’s decision to play the evil Holmes. “And because people don’t know much about (Holmes), it makes it even more interesting.”
The plan now is to find a writer or a writer-director to help nail down the vast story, then move to setting it up.