“Every journalist has their dream list of interview subjects. Mine was Marvin Gaye, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I never got to Marvin Gaye, but Joni Mitchell more than made up for it. My last cover story for the magazine, and still my favorite.”
That’s from an intro that Cameron Crowe wrote in the summer of 2000 when he reprinted his interview with Joni Mitchell that ran in the July 26, 1979 edition of Rolling Stone.
Now, if you’re wondering what Crowe has been up to for the last several years, you’re not alone. The Oscar-winning filmmaker has been laying low ever since Showtime canceled his 2016 series Roadies after one season, but sources say he’s finally readying a return behind the camera, as Above the Line has exclusively learned that Crowe is set to write and direct a movie about Joni Mitchell that he’s been developing with the iconic singer-songwriter for the past two years. He’ll also produce alongside his Vinyl Films partner Greg Mariotti.
Sources caution that the project isn’t a traditional biopic in the conventional sense of the word, nor is it a documentary. Instead, it’s akin to an autobiography, in the sense that Crowe has been writing about Mitchell since he was a young reporter for Rolling Stone, and she has grown to trust him over the years, so he’s been writing the script with her input.
In fact, in 2017, less than two years after suffering a brain aneurysm that left her struggling to walk, Mitchell made a rare public appearance at Clive Davis‘ annual pre-Grammy party, where she was escorted by her close friend Crowe, who also interviewed Mitchell for the Los Angeles Times ahead of the 50th anniversary of her landmark 1971 album Blue.
Thus, much like Almost Famous, sources say the project is deeply personal for Crowe, which is why he’s been putting it together under the radar during the pandemic. I’m told that the project is very much of Crowe’s singular voice, it just happens to be Mitchell’s story that he’s telling, so it’s basically her life from the inside looking out, according to those familiar with the take.
It remains unclear whether Crowe will cast one actress or multiple actresses to play Mitchell at various points in her life, though he is certainly a talent magnet, having worked with A-listers such as Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky), Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson (We Bought a Zoo), and Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone (Aloha). He also directed Cuba Gooding Jr. to an Oscar win for Jerry Maguire, while both Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand received Oscar nominations for their supporting turns in Almost Famous, and Cameron Diaz earned Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for her supporting performance in Vanilla Sky.
Though Crowe’s most recent film, 2015’s Aloha, failed to find its audience, the director has a strong track record of success. Audiences showed Jerry Maguire the money to the tune of $273 million worldwide, while the underrated psychological thriller Vanilla Sky cleared $200 million at the global box office. Even We Bought a Zoo, which opened to just $9 million at the domestic box office, had surprisingly long legs, going on to gross an impressive $75 million in the U.S. and $120 million worldwide.
Crowe won an Oscar for writing Almost Famous, a timeless coming-of-age film that was based on his own experience as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone. He also earned a pair of Oscar nominations as the writer-producer of Jerry Maguire.
Music is clearly in Crowe’s blood, and he has a deep appreciation for the major artists he grew up listening to. Crowe produced the 2019 documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name and a decade before that, the director had been developing a Marvin Gaye movie titled My Name Is Marvin. Though that biopic fell apart due to casting and budget issues, there’s a fundamental difference between that project and the Joni Mitchell movie — namely that Gaye died in 1984 and wasn’t around to help Crowe tell his story, whereas Mitchell is still wildly alive at the age of 79, and eager to help him share her story — and its many fun adventures — with the world.
Mitchell is considered one of the world’s most influential folk singers, and one of the greatest songwriters in history. The 10-time Grammy winner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. She emerged from the nightclubs of Toronto and began touring the U.S. in 1965, churning out hits such as “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Free Man in Paris,” “Help Me,” and “Woodstock” over the next decade. Her 1971 album Blue is often cited as one of the best of all time, and she also designed most of her own album covers.
Mitchell returned to making public appearances in 2021, accepting several awards in person, including a Kennedy Center Honor. She also made an unannounced appearance at the Newport Folk Festival last summer, which marked her first live performance in nine years, and she’s scheduled to headline a show this summer as well. It sounds like Mitchell has made, if not a full recovery, then close to one, and here’s hoping that she continues to perform for years to come.
Stay tuned to Above the Line as this project continues to coalesce and things heat up on the casting front, as I imagine there will be no shortage of actresses lining up to both portray Mitchell and work with Crowe, neither of whom could be reached for comment.