Lance Armstrong Scandal Ups Interest in Movie Projects

Lance Armstrong World Cancer Congress - P 2012
Getty Images

Lance Armstrong World Cancer Congress - P 2012

With Hollywood films about the cyclist stuck in first gear, a tarnished legacy rekindles fascination in the now-compelling antihero.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As Lance Armstrong's fall from grace dominates headlines, will Hollywood race to adapt the cyclist's antiheroic story? Despite the dramatic arc of a cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner who was found to have engaged in a massive doping scheme, only one Armstrong-related project is in motion: an Alex Gibney-directed documentary.

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While the Oscar winner's untitled Sony pic is in postproduction, new footage likely will be added, given that Armstrong, 41, was stripped Oct. 22 of the cycling titles he won from 1999 to 2005. Despite reports that Matt Damon would narrate the Gibney film, the actor's WME reps say he's not on board.

Meanwhile, two once-promising Armstrong dramas quietly have been dropped. Sony held high hopes for a project based on Armstrong's 2001 best-selling memoir It's Not About the Bike and tapped Frank Marshall (the Bourne franchise) to produce (Damon was rumored to star). An insider says the studio let go of the property more than a year ago, though Marshall is developing it on his own. A project from Ed Pressman (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) had Armstrong's backing until he threw in with Marshall. With a script by Olympic documentarian Bud Greenspan, who died in 2010, it's considered inactive.

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But several lit agents say the cyclist is now a much more compelling figure to Hollywood. "It's not about him rising and becoming the greatest athlete," explains one agent. "He has become a polarizing figure." To that end, Paradigm is shopping screen rights to cyclist Tyler Hamilton's tell-all, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs. Insiders say the book, which was published Sept. 5 and details Armstrong's systematic doping, was taken to studios by various producers (Imagine, for example, pitched it to Universal).

The studios passed, but as the Armstrong story unfolds and sponsors like Nike drop him, interest has picked up. Still, challenges remain, as most sports movies tend to be inspirational dramas. "It's too tragic right now," says a producer who has made sports films. "You would need some sort of redemption at the end."