Michelle Williams to portray trailblazing singer Peggy Lee in upcoming biopic

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Michelle Williams appears in “Manchester by the Sea.” [Amazon Studios photo]

Four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams is set to portray iconic singer Peggy Lee in the long-awaited biopic “Fever.”

Deadline reports that MGM is in talks to board the project, with Oscar-nominated helmer Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven,” “Carol”) set to direct and Golden Globe-nominated writer Doug Wright (“Quills”) penning the screenplay.

The musical biography will explore the professional and personal life of Lee, whose career spanned nearly seven decades beginning with her first No. 1 single, 1942’s “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.” After enduring an abusive, tragic childhood, Lee became one of the 20th century’s most important musical influences in the world of jazz and popular music, helping to redefine what it meant to be a female singer. She was involved in every aspect of her performances, from costume to lighting design to directing her career on her own terms.

Tony Bennett coined her “the female Frank Sinatra,” and she has been cited as an inspiration by contemporary superstars like Adele, Madonna and Diana Krall.

Peggy Lee [Grammy photo]

A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner best known for her cover of the Little Willie John song “Fever” – to which she added lyrics – Lee also embarked on a second career as an actor, earning an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress in 1955 for portraying an alcoholic blues singer in “Pete Kelly’s Blues.” She starred in the 1952 movie “The Jazz Singer” and the Disney animated film “Lady and the Tramp. She died in 2002 at the age of 81.

The upcoming biopic will be produced by Marc Platt, Reese Witherspoon and Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachon via their Killer Films production company, according to Deadline.

The film was once in development at Fox 2000 and came close to going into production with Witherspoon in the Lee role, Deadline reports. After Nora Ephron, who penned the original draft and was set to direct, died in 2012, the film was put on hold. Witherspoon eventually left the project.

After the Disney-Fox merger, Fox 2000 shut down. But Deadline reports that the idled project gained new life with Williams’ interest in portraying Lee.

Williams, who previously worked with Haynes on the films “I’m Not Here” and “Wonderstruck,” has been nominated for Oscars for “Manchester by the Sea,” “Blue Valentine,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “My Week with Marilyn,” portraying Marilyn Monroe in the latter. She recently earned a Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy for portraying Tony winner Gwen Verdon in the limited TV series “Fosse/Verdon.” Her other credits include “Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff” and Sony’s comic-book adaptation “Venom” and the upcoming sequel.

If the deal is done, “Fever” would be released theatrically in the United States via MGM’s distribution and marketing joint venture United Artists Releasing.

Deadline also reports that multi-Grammy-winning artist Billie Eilish, her mother Maggie Baird and Record Label partner Justin Lubliner have expressed interest in the Lee biopic and are in early talks board the project as executive producers. In May 2020, Eilish participated in a Grammy Museum celebration of Lee’s life and career in honor of what would have been the “Fever” crooner’s 100th birthday.

-BAM

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