Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens’ oddball and manic ‘80s character that’s basically a kid trapped in an adult man’s body and shrunken suit, already got one comeback in the last five years. Netflix and Judd Apatow helped put the John Lee-directed Pee-wee's Big Holiday together back in 2016 — but that wasn’t exactly all Reubens had for the character’s last act. Apparently the comedian and actor, who took a step back from the spotlight after a 1991 indecent exposure arrest, has a dark turn in store for Pee-wee — and he’s been pitching it everywhere. And if he can’t star in it? He’s willing for Pee-wee to become part of the latest fad: digital actors.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Reubens isn’t overly optimistic about his future in the role as Pee-wee, though after seeing the de-aging tech used to re-achieve his ‘80s baby-faced glory in Pee-wee's Big Holiday, his confidence was bolstered. "I was so buoyed by that, I realized, I could do [Pee-wee] for 10 more years if I wanted to," he said. "I think I could do it for a while longer, and just fix my face." But that technological fad, used for everything from the kids in It Chapter Two to Michael Douglas in Avengers: Endgame to Robert De Niro in The Irishman, can’t fix faces forever. At a certain point, the tech is going to escalate — in fact, as recent reports about a film looking to digitally reconstruct James Dean into a starring role show, CG actors may be the future...even if Rogue One's Grand Moff Tarkin was a trip into the uncanny valley.
"I think actors are going to be obsolete really quick," Reubens said. "And part of me would love to sell the whole thing. That would include my digital scans, a couple of scripts, some other stuff. I don't for one second feel I'm George Lucas or that Pee-wee Herman the franchise is Star Wars, but it's worth something, you know? And I feel like I could step away from it."
That might well need to happen after this script. Called The Pee-wee Herman Story, it’s far more twisted than Reubens’ speaking tour in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure. It’s even stranger than the Pee-wee podcast or animated Puppetland series he’s developing. Just for example, in The Pee-wee Herman Story, Pee-wee gets shock therapy in a mental hospital to help combat his alcoholism. Looks like there won’t be any more "Tequila" — dances or otherwise.
The story, a completed draft of which Reubens’ has had since the late ‘90s, sees Pee-wee get out of jail, become a yodeling star, achieve Hollywood fame, then succumb to pills and booze. "I've referred to it as the Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee movie," Reubens said. "It's about fame."
Netflix, saying it "doesn't check off all the boxes" of a Pee-wee movie, has passed on the project. However, Reubens has still found some semi-interested parties. Josh and Benny Safdie (the filmmakers that gave Adam Sandler an uncharacteristically dark and dramatic role in Uncut Gems) are reportedly considering the movie, according to Reubens.
However, Reubens is after $3M for himself and a $1.5M de-aging budget to keep Pee-wee looking young, which means that the risky film has a hefty investment cost. "I do feel like it's going to probably happen," the comedian said. "I have a couple of people that are interested. But this is Hollywood. A couple people interested and five bucks will get you five bucks."
That said, with another character that Tim Burton helped popularize in the ‘80s (Joker) recently getting a gritty and highly acclaimed film version of his own, perhaps the time is right for Pee-wee to go the route of the supervillain.