'The Devil in the White City': everything we know about Leonardo DiCaprio's TV debut

The series will be produced by Oscar-winner DiCaprio and his frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese

US actor Leonardo DiCaprio is to make his TV debut in 'The Devil in the White City', a series he will be producing alongside Martin Scorsese. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Reports out of Hollywood this week have linked Keanu Reeves to Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s period serial killer drama The Devil in the White City, which the pair are executive producing as a Hulu Original in association with the US streaming platform. So what do we know about the show so far?

What is it about?

The show will be based on Erik Larson’s historical non-fiction book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. The book tells the true story of two seemingly unrelated men – architect Daniel Burnham, who was the key designer for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and conman H H Holmes, who owned the World’s Fair Hotel, later known as the “Murder Castle”.

Holmes would become widely regarded as America's first serial killer, and reportedly killed as many as 200 people in his purpose-built torture hotel while posing as a charming doctor. His gruesome hotel even featured a secret shaft leading to a dungeon complete with an incinerator and acid bath. The two men’s fates would become inextricably linked by the bizarre events at that year’s expo.

How is Leonardo DiCaprio involved?

DiCaprio acquired the rights to the book for his own Appian Way Productions in 2010, fascinated by its dark subject matter, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It’s been a slow burner for DiCaprio since, but even before he acquired the rights to the adaptation, one had already been in development at Paramount since 2004.

Stars including Tom Cruise and Kathryn Bigelow were previously linked to the project before the studio gave up the rights to the book, reportedly because it was not happy about the budgetary requirements of the proposed film’s period setting.

Despite Paramount’s movie arm having now passed on the project, its TV side is currently attached to it as a producer alongside Appian Way.

Martin Scorsese is collaborating

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 16:  Director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio attend the cocktail party to celebrate the New York premiere of "Shutter Island" at Armani Ristorante on February 16, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Giorgio Armani) *** Local Caption *** Martin Scorsese;Leonardo DiCaprio

In 2015, DiCaprio appointed his frequent collaborator Scorsese to direct the adaptation, which was then intended to be a film. Scorsese and DiCaprio have previously worked together on successful projects including The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York and the coming Killers of the Flower Moon. The pair’s movie collaborations have so far been nominated for a total of 31 Oscars, winning nine.

With the adaptation now set to be a series, DiCaprio and Scorsese will executive produce. DiCaprio was scheduled to play the role of Holmes in the movie version. It hasn’t been confirmed so far whether this will still be the case in the series, but it hasn’t been ruled out, either.

Scorsese is still expected to direct some of the series, but as part of a roster of directors, including multi-Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom and Little Children director Todd Field, who is set to direct the first two episodes.

Keanu Reeves may be signing up too

Reeves could be the next big name to join the project. Deadline has reported that the Matrix and Bill and Ted star is in talks to join the cast. If DiCaprio still plays Holmes, which as mentioned we don’t know for sure since the production switched from a movie to a TV series, it wouldn’t be a great leap of faith to assume Reeves will be taking on the role of Burnham.

It would certainly be an unusual decision to approach such a big name for a minor role, so a lead seems a safe guess. The show would represent the first major US TV role for both Reeves and DiCaprio.

When can we watch it?

The film has already been in development for more than 15 years, no release date has yet been offered by Hulu and casting is still in discussion, so it’s safe to assume we won’t be seeing anything for some time.

While Hulu is currently only available in the US, and has no plans to expand, its hits tend to find their way on to screens globally.

The multi-award-winning Hulu Original The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, has been available via StarzPlay Arabia and OSN Streaming at various points in its history, while OSN Streaming also found a home for the popular comedy Ramy.

Updated: January 06, 2022, 5:48 AM