“To see this girl bring Janis to life was profound,” says Penelope Spheeris, the director of the upcoming Janis Joplin biopic The Gospel According to Janis, due in 2005. The “girl” in question is pop star Pink, who was recently cast in the movie’s lead role and will also sing all of Joplin’s vocals.
The film will be Pink’s acting debut, but Spheeris was so blown away by her screen-test, that deciding to cast her was a no-brainer. “For me, it was the most gratifying moment of my whole career,” says the director of Wayne’s World and The Decline of Civilization trilogy.
Both Spheeris and producer Peter Newman are intent on depicting Joplin in a positive life. “I’m making a movie about a hero,” Spheeris says. “She was a woman breaking the rules when women didn’t.” While Joplin is known for her battles with drugs and alcohol, the filmmakers are eager to show that Joplin was trying to deal with her addictions. “She lived her life on a tight rope,” said Newman, “But she was anything but a train-wreck.”
According to Spheeris, it was her daughter who suggested Pink. After coaching her for one day, Spheeris directed her in four scenes (an unusually challenging load for a screen-test), two of which featured Pink singing. The response was immediate. “She can sing Janis with her heart and soul without it being pure mimicry,” said Newman. “It’s something very raw and immediate.”
The producers have acquired the rights to most of Joplin’s songs — including “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Mercedes Benz” and “Piece of My Heart” — for use in the film. Sheeris says Pink “knows Janis’ music to the degree that she hits every single note.”
Melissa Etheridge once vied for the role of Joplin, who died of a drug overdose in 1970 at age twenty-seven, but plans for that film were scrapped. Another Joplin film is also in the works at Paramount, with Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger cast in the lead, though the project doesn’t have the same music rights that Gospel does. Spheeris isn’t concerned about possible competition. “Janis Joplin is so cool,” she says, “that she deserves two movies.”