Giving Us Fever: Todd Haynes is Directing the Peggy Lee Biopic Starring Reese Witherspoon

By  · Published on September 8th, 2014

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

After Reese Witherspoon dyed her hair and stepped into June Carter Cash’s shoes for Walk the Line, it was no longer a secret that she could sing, and sing well. The 2005 biopic that earned her the Oscar for Best Actress is a dark and complicated journey through the singer’s life with Johnny Cash, just as much about their volatile relationship as it is about the music. And though Carter was never someone with a just an ordinary voice, Witherspoon absolutely nailed what made her tick, hitting ever lilt and country twang with ease.

Now she’s tackling another giant: legendary jazz singer and songwriter Peggy Lee (who herself received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination). There’s actually no title for the biopic yet – who wants to bet good money that it’s called Fever? – but Witherspoon has actually been circling the project for over four years, during which time it was to be written and directed by the late and great Nora Ephron. When she passed away in 2012, it was assumed that the project wouldn’t be moving forward, but news surfaced from Witherspoon herself that indicates otherwise.

The actress revealed during an onstage interview at the Toronto Film Festival last night that Ephron completed her script before her death, and Todd Haynes will now be directing. He is the man to talk to when it comes to original and unconventional music biopics, so this is promising news for getting the project back in the running. Among his larger filmography, Haynes is responsible for the very unauthorized Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the fictionalized-but-little-too-real glam-rock icon study Velvet Goldmine andthe group-shared film about Bob Dylan, I’m Not There.

It will be intriguing to see how his vision of what a film about Peggy Lee should look like, as combined with Ephron’s story. The details on what that plot contains are still under wraps, but Lee clearly had a full life from which to draw experiences. She didn’t quite have the dramatic flair that some biopics rely on – though she was married and divorced four times, and that’s always good material – so it’s exciting that this may be just focusing on a woman’s vast accomplishments and her collaborations with a generation of legends, including Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel and many more. With a script from Ephron, that’s likely what is happening.

The film will be a travesty, though, if it doesn’t include at least a small segment about Lee’s involvement with Lady and the Tramp. As you can see in this charming video, she wasn’t just a popular singer but also a gifted songwriter who voiced multiple characters in the beloved Disney movie – Darling, both siamese cats and Peg, that feisty blonde stray at the pound who warns Lady who she picked as a boyfriend. While it’s not shocking that Disney pulled a big name to voice their characters, Lee also wrote her own music for the animated film, all classic songs that still hold weight in the Disney universe.

Now, how long until we see Witherspoon channeling Lee and a fluffy dog at the same time?