Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be finally getting a long-in-the-works film project off the ground about the true story of the first person ever to use multiple personality disorder as his defense in court successfully. Billy Milligan was the center of a highly publicized series of crimes, including armed robbery and three rapes on the Ohio State University campus, and the subsequent court case in Ohio in the 1970s.
Milligan was diagnosed with having 24 different personalities and pleaded insanity, claiming that his alternate personalities committed the crimes without his knowledge. The defense worked and Milligan spent time in mental hospitals rather than going to prison. According to The Hollywood Reporter, which reported that the project is now moving forward, DiCaprio has been looking to play Milligan for nearly 20 years.
Award-winning author Daniel Keyes later wrote a book about Milligan and the trial called The Minds of Billy Milligan, which further popularized the story. The DiCaprio film is currently titled The Crowded Room, though it will be an adaptation of Keyes’ book. DiCaprio’s own production company has signed on to produce with New Regency, and two writers have been hired to adapt the script. New Regency is just coming off the Oscar-winning Birdman with Alejandro Iñárritu and is currently working with DiCaprio on The Revenant.
Milligan died at the end of last year of cancer at the age of 59 while residing in a nursing home in Columbus, Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch reported at the time, which renewed interest in his story. His case was the first time anyone had ever pleaded insanity under the claim that alternate personalities had committed the crimes without the actual person being aware of it. He was also the first person to be acquitted of a major crime by using such a defense.
The mental health professionals who examined him found that Milligan had 24 different personalities and showed signs of severe schizophrenia. Among his personalities were Adalena, a 19-year-old lesbian who craved affection and he said committed the various rapes he was accused of, a Yugoslavian communist named Ragen Vadascovinich who committed the robberies in a Robin Hood-type spirit, a con artist named Tommy, and a proper and prim Englishman named Arthur.
DiCaprio’s smart to be looking to this kind of material. Not only would playing someone with multiple personality disorder likely be artistically fulfilling for the actor, but it won’t go unnoticed by awards season voters. Actors who play people suffering from mental illnesses are very often rewarded with Oscar gold, and DiCaprio is one of those actors who seems to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride at the Academy Awards. Though he’s been nominated for five Oscars, he’s never taken home the trophy.
Julianne Moore’s win this year for playing a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice is just one of many examples of actors who have won Academy Awards for playing characters with different types of mental illnesses. Scarlett Johansson noticed the trend and signed on to a similar project based on a nonfiction book examining the process used to determine whether or not a person is a psychopath, which could perhaps give the actress her own well-deserved awards season win.
DiCaprio will be able to fully flex his acting chops playing a man with not just a couple, but 24 different personalities residing in one mind and body. Milligan is already a well-known figure due to the trial and Keyes’ book, and that familiarity will also be an advantage to building anticipation for the film. The Crowded Room could end up being the movie that finally wins DiCaprio his first Oscar.
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