Tiger King biopic dream casting: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Zac Efron, David Spade

Big-cat zookeepers, boy toy husbands and other crazy characters have made the Netflix series a hit. These actors would make a great fit for the upcoming Tiger King biopic.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
6 min read

Warning: Tiger King spoilers ahead. 

Tigers, bad singing, polygamy and a murder-for-hire have made Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness a huge hit. So with a scripted biopic on the way, it's not surprising well-known actors like David Spade, Dax Shepard and Edward Norton want in on the action.

The true-crime tale tells the incredible story of the vicious rivalry between eccentric Oklahoma zoo owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka Joe Exotic) and his nemesis, big-cat activist Carole Baskin, who may or may not be as innocent as she seems. 

The Netflix docuseries also includes a wild cast of characters including other big-cat zoo owners, a reality TV producer, a former strip club owner, an amateur hitman, a swinging couple and multiple husbands, including one who's missing. 

NBC Universal has already optioned the incredible story for an upcoming miniseries with SNL Kate McKinnon playing Baskin, as well as serving as an executive producer.

While McKinnon would be a great choice to play Baskin in the biopic too, plenty of actors would be perfect to portray Joe Exotic and the other people in this freaky story. Below are some ideas of which performers could do this upcoming series justice. Got more? Share them in the comments. 

Joe Exotic


Joe Exotic in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.


Gay zoo owner Joe Exotic is a lover of big cats, mullets, guns, country music and flashy clothes. He's also in jail after being convicted for hiring someone to murder Baskin. The actor who takes on this role will need to channel an Oklahoma redneck persona, and be comfortable hugging tigers.

Dax Shepard

Bless This Mess actor Dax Shepard has already been campaigning on Twitter to play Joe Exotic. "If I don't get cast as Joe Exotic in the eventual biopic, Hollywood is broken, Shepard tweeted on March 25. "He might be a good pick considering his background in comedies such as Without a PaddleThe Ranch, Idiocracy, My Name Is Earl and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later

Edward Norton


Norton as private detective Lionel Essrog in Motherless Brooklyn.

Warner Brothers

But not so fast, Dax Shepard. Edward Norton is also campaigning to play Joe Exotic. In fact, Norton responded to Shepard's tweet about wanting to play the unusual zookeeper with the tweet, "Um, step aside, pal. You're way too young and buff and you know it. You could probably pull off Maldonado still, actually. Wouldn't that be fun?" 

Norton has played his share of unusual characters in the films Fight Club, American History X, The Incredible Hulk and Birdman, so perhaps his take on Joe Exotic is just what we need. 

Brad Pitt 


Brad Pitt in the sci-fi film Ad Astra.

20th Century Fox

While some might have trouble picturing glamorous Ad Astra star Brad Pitt in the lead, Joe Exotic himself has already said that he hopes the actor will portray him. 

"He would like Brad Pitt or David Spade to play him," Tiger King docuseries directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin told the Hollywood Reporter. Pitt would do an excellent job as the charismatic zookeeper, but he might have to undergo some serious makeup and prosthetics to look a bit more Joe Exotic trashy.

David Spade 


David Spade in the 2001 film Joe Dirt.

Sony Pictures

Another actor Joe Exotic said he wants to play him is David Spade. Except instead of calling him David Spade, Exotic simply refers to the actor by his character Joe Dirt, from the 2001 movie of the same name. It makes sense considering both men really know how to show off a mullet hairstyle. Spade is also a fan of both the Tiger King docuseries and its companion podcast. Spade has even posted YouTube videos in which he interviews people who appeared in the show.

Nicolas Cage


Nicolas Cage in Con Air. 

Touchstone Pictures

Nicolas Cage is an easy pick to play Joe Exotic. After all, Cage is the kind of actor who's made a career out of playing wacky characters in movies like Raising Arizona, Ghost Rider, Mandy, Kick-Ass, Vampire's Kiss and The Wicker Man. He's even going to play Nicolas Cage in a movie about Nicolas Cage. Cast him already. 

Carole Baskin


Big cat activist Carole Baskin in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.


Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, is quite vocal about her opposition to Joe Exotic's zoo as well as to other big-cat collectors. But she might also be harboring a darker side given allegations her missing husband might have met with foul play. 

Kate McKinnon 


Kate McKinnon as Marianne Williamson on Saturday Night Live.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon is already planning to play the offbeat animal rights activist in the upcoming miniseries. But she would have been a top pick regardless. The comedian has a special talent for mimicking real-world women from politicians Marianne Williamson, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Charlize Theron


Charlize Theron in 2017's Atomic Blonde.

Jonathan Prime

Charlize Theron could also pull off playing Baskin. While the real-life big-cat activist isn't the kind of character Theron typically tackles, it would be exciting to see her undergo the same metamorphosis she went through to play real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 movie Monster

Margot Robbie


Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Margot Robbie can play characters that are both complex and off-the-charts crazy, as she showed with the violently giddy DC Comics character Harley Quinn in 2020's Birds of Prey. She's also had experience playing real-world criminals, like the disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in the 2017 movie I, Tonya.

Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle


Bhagavan "Doc" Antle handing big cats in Tiger King.


Mahamayavi Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is the another wild-animal collector and the polyamorous owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, a big-cat private zoo that Baskin also wanted to shut down.

Jim Gaffigan


With 7 films being released in 2019, the stand-up Jim Gaffigan has slowly become a movie star.

Elevin Studios

Much like Joe Exotic, Doc Antle is quite the character. Comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan could play the peculiar zoo owner with  a humorous tone. Plus it would be entertaining to see Gaffigan play a salacious role. 

John C. Reilly 


The game's afoot for John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in 2018's Holmes and Watson.

Sony Pictures

John C. Reilly can usually be seen in movies next to comedy partner-in-crime Will Ferrell in films like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby. Reilly almost looks a lot like Antle normally, plus he's already gifted at playing cringe-worthy characters on the big screen. 

Steve Martin


Steve Martin knows a thing or two about comedy.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Seasoned actor and comedian Steve Martin might be bit of a wild card pick to play Antle, but he could add more humor to Antle's crazy antics. Not to mention it would be delightful to see Martin acting in a live-action film again, since he mostly just does voice acting as of late.

Rick Kirkham


TV producer Rick Kirkham in Tiger King.


Joe Exotic hired experienced television producer Rick Kirkham to film a reality TV show about his life in hopes of fame. But Exotic stressed Kirkham out so much during their professional relationship Kirkham ended up having a mental breakdown. 

Steve Buscemi


Steve Buscemi as kidnapper Carl Showalter in the 1996 movie Fargo. 

Gramercy Pictures

Steve Buscemi might be the perfect choice to play the tortured reality TV producer. Kirkham is constant frustrated with Exotic's quest to become a household name, and Buscemi has a certain talent for playing people exasperated by other characters. Plus, seeing Buscemi with a ponytail is already comedy gold. 

Walton Goggins 


Walton Goggins in 2018's Tomb Raider. 

Warner Bros. Pictures

Best known for his role as Boyd Crowder in Justified, Walton Goggins can play a character who's talented at telling long-winded tales. Kirkham feels like a Tiger King breakout star just for his ability to recount all of Exotic's bizarre capers in a way that makes the audience want to hear more. 

Jeff Lowe


Jeff Lowe in Tiger King.


As the current owner of the Greater Wynnewood Zoo and an exotic-animal collector, Jeff Lowe is mostly seen in the docuseries riding around in his sports cars with a tiger in the passenger seat. 

Sam Rockwell


Sam Rockwell in 2009's Moon.

Sony Pictures

Sam Rockwell is the perfect choice to play the unconventional and somewhat sleazy Lowe. In the docuseries, Lowe throws private cub-petting parties in Las Vegas just so he can attract beautiful women and have sex with them. Seeing Rockwell throw a lavish tiger cub party would be a biopic highlight for sure. 

Will Arnett


Will Arnett with Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.


Another great choice for Lowe is actor Will Arnett, who is best known for his character George Oscar "Gob" Bluth II in the comedy TV series Arrested Development. Arnett's comedic talents could add extra absurdity to Lowe. 

Dillon Passage

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It was a vibe 🔮 ⚰️

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Dillon Passage is Joe Exotic's current husband who stands by his man even when Exotic is in prison.

Zac Efron


Zac Efron plays Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile serial killer Ted Bundy.

Brian Douglas

Zac Efron might have started his acting career as a teen idol in Disney's High School Musical, but after depicting serial killer Ted Bundy in 2019's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, it's obvious the actor has range. Efron could also give Passage a higher profile in the biopic since he's only in the docuseries toward the end of Exotic's sordid tale.

John Finlay

Joe Exotic's marriage to former husband John Finlay ended after Exotic had him arrested for assault. Finlay later ran Exotic's Safari Bar near the zoo. 

Dave Bautista


Dave Bautista plays the Replicant Sapper in Blade Runner 2049.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Dave Bautista already looks like he could be John Finlay's doppelganger. In the docuseries, Finlay is seen shirtless most of the time to show off his muscles and Joe Exotic tattoo. Usually Bautista plays rigid tough guys in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049. As Finlay, Bautista could show off his softer, more romantic side.

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