El Duderino Redux: Leonardo DiCaprio to star in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s remake of “The Big Lebowski”!

By on April 1, 2016

There’s mind-blowing news out of Hollywood today that the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult hit The Big Lebowski is being re-made — with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as “The Dude” — in an independent film to be called The Big Lebowski Redux. The film, expected in theaters sometime next year, is being co-directed by Seth Rogen and director Evan Goldberg (they co-directed the apocalyptic comedy This Is The End, released by Sony Pictures in 2013).

We don’t have an actual theatrical trailer from Redux just yet, or still photographs taken on the set — the Rogen/Goldberg film is still being edited in post-production — so have a look instead at this special trailer for the Coen Brothers’s 1998 film to refresh your memory of why The Big Lebowski was such a memorable classic in the first place (the trailer attempts to answer the question: What if everything that happened to The Dude was really just a hallucination while he was stoned out of his mind?).

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Meanwhile, here’s a photo a Leonardo DiCaprio’s face — superimposed over Jeff Bridges’s face in a scene from The Big Lebowski — which was taken around the time production began in late 2012. We think approximates how he might look as The Dude.

Set in and around L.A. during the build up to the Gulf War in the early 90s, the original The Big Lebowski is a loopy tale of a lazy, middle aged stoner who is thrown into a classic private detective plot that seems like something Raymond Chandler might have written if he were alive today, turning on a case of mistaken identity, complicated by extortion, double-cross, deception, embezzlement, sex and dope smoking.

Rogen and Goldberg’s project became more than just a couple of stoner’s pipe dreams, starting just a little over four years ago, on March 29, 2012, while they were in the midst of production on This Is The End. That’s when Rogen was invited to come and read Jeff Bridges’ iconic character’s lines for a one-night-only stage reading of the Joel and Ethan Coen script for The Big Lebowski for director Jason Reitman’s Live Read series, which benefits Film Independent’s LACMA program.

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Jason Reitman introducing the Live Read cast for The Big Lebowski on March 29, 2012, at LACMA

Rogen — who gave Night Flight the exclusive inside scoop on Redux in a recent phone interview — told us “The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite films of all time, and it’s definitely one of my favorites when I’m stoned.

Rogen says he jumped at the chance to play The Dude before a sold-out audience at the Bing Theatre at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, located on Wilshire Blvd. in the Miracle Mile area of L.A.

His co-stars for the Live Read, many of them famous faces from TV shows, included “Mad Men”‘s Christina Hendricks (as Maude), “The Office”‘s Rainn Wilson (as Walter), “The Simpsons”‘s Hank Azaria (as Donny), “Seinfeld”‘s Jason Alexander (as Lebowski), and playing the role of The Stranger was none other than the actor who played the original role in the film, Sam Elliott.

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Catherine Reitman, Nick Kroll, Fred Savage, Sam Elliott, Seth Rogen, Christina Hendricks, Rain Wilson, Hank Azaria, Jason Alexander at Film Independent’s Live Read held at The Bing Theatre at LACMA on March 29, 2012

Rogen told us that he and Goldberg and many of their mutual friends — some of whom who would also appear in This Is The End when it was released, including James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride — enjoyed hearing his version of The Dude so much that, that very night, they begin to talk about filming a shot-for-shot remake of the Coen Brothers 1998 comedy film themselves. At the time, they planned to make it just for fun, and just for themselves, with no plans to distribute it beyond their circle of friends.

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An artist’s depiction of James Franco’s drug dealer Saul Silver from Pineapple Express with Jeff Bridges as The Dude from The Big Lebowski

Rogen:  “We were sitting around in my living room, taking bong rips and laughing our asses off about the movie — which is a fucking stone classic — and we started talking about if we were to do a remake, who would play which part, and naturally I felt I should play Bridges’ role, er… the Dude… because I’d just done the Reitman thing, but Franco really thought it was a role he’d wanted to tackle, especially after playing the drug dealer Saul Silver in Pineapple Express, which Evan and I wrote together. I remember both of us talking about the movie on the set when they were lighting the set and we’d quote lines from the movie back and forth. He thought I should play Walter Sobchack, though, which I could actually see myself playing as well, mainly because of my size and the fact that I look good in shorts, which Walter wears a lot in the movie, so we decided to do it, with Franco set to play the Dude and me as Walter Sobchak.”

In their new version, Rogen says that he and Goldberg haven’t changed anything — they do, he adds, include additional dope smoking scenes, which were shot in Rogen’s own living room and actual dope from Rogen’s own stash — but Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski is still an unemployed, out of shape 40-something stoner who spends his life mostly driving around L.A., having the occasional acid flashback, and drinking White Russians in a bowling alley with his bowling league partners.

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There were a few instances where the original L.A.-area film locations no longer exist, however, and so Rogen says that the filmmakers were forced to new locations that looked right.

Rogen: “You never actually see The Dude bowling in the original but we’ve seen photos of him bowling, so we know they were probably shot but then cut in post, so we decided to improvise a scene that isn’t in the original movie where The Dude actually bowls a perfect game while stoned out of his mind. Walter’s stoned too in our film too, by the way, but that’s mainly because I play Walter and didn’t want to miss out. We were smoking my own stash, after all.”

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Since the original location where the film’s bowling scenes were shot — Hollywood Star Lanes, which in the late 90s was still located at 5227 Santa Monica Boulevard — no longer exists and is now the site of an elementary school, the filmmakers shot their bowling scenes at Cal Bowl, an old school bowling alley where several years ago the “Bowling Party” portion of Lebowskifest Los Angeles was held. A few others locations were improvised by shooting at Rogen’s home in the Hollywood Hills and at Danny McBride’s home in Beaumont, California, which he’s said reminds him of his childhood hometown in Georgia.

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Seth Rogen and James Franco from Pineapple Express (2008): Rogen says the two friends both wanted to play The Dude, a role that ultimately went to Leonardo DiCaprio

Rogen continues: “We were about to just about to start filming, just taking the Coen Brothers’s script and following it shot-for-shot, and then Franco got so busy with directing his little lit-film projects, which is what we were calling them back then [Franco directed a short film of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God (2013), as well as a film based on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (2013) and The Sound and the Fury (2014)] that he finally just said he couldn’t be in it, he was just too busy.”

(We realize that including additional dope smoking scenes and alternate filming locations doesn’t actually make Redux a shot-for-shot remake, but we didn’t want to interrupt Rogen, who was having a stream-of-consciousness moment on the phone at the time, punctuated by the occasional sound of bubbling water and short, harsh coughs).

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The Big Lebowski Redux co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Rogen: “We thought that was the end of it, since we’d pretty much come up with the idea when we were zonked out of our minds on Purple Urkle — well, Jonah thought he’d like to be The Dude, but we didn’t really think he was an above-the-title star at the time (laughs) — but then one night, real late, I think it was like 2am, Leo called me up and said he’d been at a party that night, talking to Jay [Baruchel] about our film, and he said he wanted to be in it.”

“I mean, it’s Leo Fucking DiCaprio, you know?? So of course once he came aboard the project, it just started to steamroll, and before we knew it, someone had broken our pact to not tell any Hollywood movie people about it, no agents, no managers, none of those shitheads, and then suddenly we had all these studios fighting about it and throwing ridiculous amounts of money at Evan and I do distribute the film, so we said ‘fuck it’ and after we got Joel and Ethan’s blessing we actually went ahead with it.”

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Jeff Bridges as The Dude, and a candid photo of Leonardo DiCaprio taken sometime in 2012, after he’d put on a few pounds in order to play The Dude

The production was apparently halted numerous times because of everyone’s busy schedules, coming together to shoot individual scenes guerilla-style — without the proper shooting permits — whenever they could get together. Early on, after having just appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained as Calvin Candie, the owner of “Candyland,” the fourth largest and most notorious plantation in all of Mississippi, DiCaprio was still sporting a beard, but there were apparently times when he would come back to L.A. beardless (Rogen says that a friend who does makeup and hair for film and TV had a collection of merkins that DiCaprio used during their production when he would show up on the set clean shaven).

Both Rogen and Goldberg (who was apparently with Rogen when he spoke to us but didn’t want to be interviewed because he said he was too high) were reluctant to shed light on too many more specifics about the film — they were asked to re-title their film The Big Lebowski Redux to avoid confusion with the original Coen Brothers film — except to say that it should be in limited theaters next year sometime, but might be shown at the end of the year at a private Los Angeles screening in order to be eligible for Oscar nominations.

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Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson watch their friend Leonardo DiCaprio win an Oscar for The Revenant

Rogen: “Seriously, we were all watching the Academy Awards this year and shitting our pants that Leo finally won an Oscar for The Revenant .. we even have a scene of him being raped by a Lebowski bear in our film, so we figure he pretty much has a real chance of winning another one of those naked gold dudes for Redux.

If you’ve read this far, thank you kindly, but you should probably remember that today is April Fools Day and you’re probably stoned on Purple Urkle if you’ve believed any of this shit.

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(big thanks to Michael Dare!)

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.