Leo Meet Leo: Paramount, Universal Vie For Walter Isaacson Da Vinci Book For DiCaprio

EXCLUSIVE: Legend has it that Leonardo DiCaprio was so named because his pregnant mother was looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in a museum in Italy when the future star kicked for the first time. So it seems like destiny that DiCaprio someday might play his namesake, the artist who painted The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.

Paramount and Universal are in a ferocious seven-figure bidding battle tonight to acquire the Walter Isaacson book Leonardo da Vinci, with Appian Way in the center of this to produce the film as a potential star vehicle for DiCaprio. Paramount, where Appian Way’s DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson have their first-look deal, was all over this one quickly, but Universal has come on gangbusters and turned it into a real two-studio race.

Isaacson wrote Steve Jobs, which was turned into the Danny Boyle-directed film that starred Michael Fassbender. The former Time magazine editor also has written bestsellers on Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, the latter of which was the basis for the Emmy-nominated NatGeo series Genius that starred Geoffrey Rush. The book will be published in October by Simon & Schuster.

According to info from the publisher, Isaacson used Da Vinci’s notebooks to weave a narrative that connects his art to his science and voracious curiosity and imagination. Aside from his priceless paintings, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy (his iconic drawing of Vitruvian Man), fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology and weaponry. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. Isaacson also describes how Leonardo’s lifelong enthusiasm for staging theatrical productions informed his paintings and inventions. According to the book, he also was a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted and at times heretical.

Appian Way moved from Warner Bros to Paramount, making a three-year deal in March 2016 right after DiCaprio won Best Actor for The Revenant. The studio is hoping that DiCaprio will star in its The Devil in the White City, an adaptation of the Erik Larson book that’s got a script by Billy Ray and will reteam DiCaprio with Martin Scorsese. Appian and Paramount separately are percolating several projects including an adaptation of the Kayla Olson novel Sandcastle Empire, about an apocalyptic future with a society on the brink of collapse from climate change; a yet-untitled film based on a book proposal by New York Times journalist Jack Ewing about the recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal; and a limited television series based on A. Scott Berg’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Charles Lindbergh.


Appian Way continues to work on its Warner Bros films that include Akira and a film about Richard Jewell, the security guard whose life unraveled after his heroic efforts to clear Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park before the 1996 bombing led to a press witch hunt that he had planted the device. Jonah Hill is attached to play Jewell and DiCaprio could play his lawyer. The next Appian Way project to hit the screen will be the Otto Bathurst-directed Robin Hood, with Kingsman‘s Taron Egerton playing the title character. Appian Way is producing with Safehouse and Thunder Road. DiCaprio is also circling Killers of the Flower Moon in a Scorsese reteam, based on the David Grann book that Imperative Entertainment bought for $5 million, with Eric Roth adapting.

The Isaacson book is being brokered by ICM Partners; DiCaprio is repped by LBI and attorneys Gretchen Rush and Steve Warren.

We’ll tell you where the book lands as soon as we know.

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