Houston-based journalist Steve McVicker has done what many journalists hope to do at least once in their careers — he's gone Hollywood.
His book, I Love You Phillip Morris, has been turned into a feature-length flick by Europacorp and Mad Chance productions. The film was set to debut in American theaters in 2009, but experienced multiple delays, according to Entertainment Weekly magazine, after financial and legal problems on part of the distributor, Roadside Attractions.
After the free screening, McVicar will join Terry Jennings, the Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the real-life Russell, and Terry Cobbs, a fugitive tracker for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who was responsible for several of Russell's captures, for a question-and-answer session.
For the past year, passengers on flights from Europe to the United States have been the only ones, outside a few European theater audiences, to see the finished product. The film premiered worldwide at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and has since received mixed reviews.
McVicker was working as a reporter at the Houston Press while following the criminal trail of Steven Russell, whose life as a police officer-turned-con artist fascinated the journalist. McVicker developed a series of stories about Russell, who fell in love with a fellow inmate, Phillip Morris, and escaped from prison four times to be with Morris. The stories caught fire and suddenly McVicker was on the phone with Mark Schone, a writer at Slate magazine who wanted to use his story for a piece in the magazine. McVicker refused and said if anyone was going to write a piece on Russell for Slate, that it would be him. From there Schone put McVicker in contact with his agent.
“I treated it as far-out love story,” McVicker said. “This guy would do anything for love — and he just happened to be gay.”
In the film, actors Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor portray Russell and Morris. Carrey, who is typically known to be funny guy on screen, has received good reviews from European publications for this more serious role.
The actual Phillip Morris, who now lives in Arkansas, and McVicker both appear make brief appearances in the film — Morris as Russell’s defense lawyer and McVicker as a judge.
While the film production may be reaching its happy ending come December, Russell is serving a a life sentence at a prison near Palestine.
"I hate the idea that he's in prison for life," McVicker said. "I'd like to have dinner with him sometime without the plexi-glass."