Wendell Pierce Will Finally Star as Blues Legend BB King in Upcoming Biopic, The Thrill Is On

Illustration for article titled Wendell Pierce Will Finally Star as Blues Legend BB King in Upcoming Biopic, The Thrill Is On
Photo: Richard Shotwell/Dan Steinberg (AP)

After years of twists and turns, acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce, star of The Wire and Treme announced that he will be playing legendary blues musician BB King in an upcoming feature film entitled, The Thrill Is On.


Pierce made the announcement Monday via Twitter, sharing a picture of himself alongside the iconic musician.

“We are official. Preparation has begun on a film where I will be honored to play the great, BB King. Humbled,” he wrote.

The film, its title a play on the famous King cover “The Thrill Is Gone,” has been a long time in the making, and was once opposed by King himself.

Originally titled BB King and I, the biopic centers on King’s relationship with a younger white musician, Michael Zanetis, who co-wrote the screenplay.

As Rolling Stone reported in 2012, King helped kickstart Zanetis’ career, while Zanetis was “instrumental in getting King a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” Zanetis reportedly showed King a copy of the biopic’s script in 2006, but that didn’t stop the pair from getting into a legal battle over the film. King sent Zanetis a cease-and-desist letter that year, claiming the film and its website violated his trademarks and publicity rights. Months later, Zanetis filed his own suit against King through his company, King Size Film Productions, accusing the guitarist of causing production delays and obstructing efforts to raise funds for the film.

At the time, Pierce was slated to play King, with actor Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, We Bought a Zoo) playing Zanetis. Right now, Pierce is the only actor attached to the project, reports Entertainment Weekly.


Pierce, a lauded character actor who has also appeared on stage, recently performing in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” seems a natural fit to play the blues musician—and has demonstrated a clear commitment to the project. The actor, an avid jazz fan, learned how to play trombone for his role in Treme, has recorded alongside pal Wynton Marsalis and Kermit Ruffins, and has hosted the Peabody Award-winning radio program, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

King, born Rileigh King, was a prolific and influential musician. Born into a sharecropping family in 1925, King’s recording career went on to span nearly six decades. Before his death in 2015, King recorded 40 studio albums with an additional 16 live albums, winning 15 Grammys as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Staff writer, The Root.



Wendell Pierce elevates whatever he’s in! And his commitment to social justice and loyalty to Louisiana are commendable. I’m down with him playing all the roles but this one was made for him!

P.S. Imagine the hubris of suing your mentor over disagreements on HIS life story?! What a white man!