Is American Gigolo a True Story? Is the Show Based on the 1980 Movie?

Image Credit: Hopper Stone/Showtime

Developed by David Hollander, Showtime’s crime series ‘American Gigolo’ revolves around a male escort named Julian Kaye, who gets wrongfully convicted for the murder of Janet Holmes. After spending fifteen years in prison for a crime he hasn’t committed, Julian returns to the sex industry of modern-day Los Angeles to build his life ahead and unravel the truth behind Janet’s murder. Starring Jon Bernthal as the titular gigolo, the series explores the world and trade of sex realistically along with an engrossing murder mystery storyline. Intrigued by the show’s captivating narrative, we have dived into the origins of the show. Here are our findings!

The Show’s Connection to the 1980 Movie

‘American Gigolo’ is based on the eponymous 1980 movie written and directed by Paul Schrader. “It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 40 years since the film release of American Gigolo and now we have the chance to continue the story of American Gigolo as a TV series,” Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer of the show and producer of the film, told EW. Even though Schrader’s film is realistic and explores the distinct dimensions of the sex industry, it is not based on a true story either.

Schrader conceived the film while he was teaching screenwriting at UCLA’s film and television department. While teaching characterizations, the director used to discuss a particular character’s profession, which led him to consider a character who is a gigolo. He then modified the character as someone who gives affection but fails to receive the same. The idea became the foundation for the protagonist Julian Kay in ‘American Gigolo,’ the film. According to Schrader, the film is the “reverse side” of ‘Taxi Driver,’ one of the greatest films of all time, written by Schrader himself.

“The character in ‘Taxi Driver’ was compulsively nonsexual. The character in ‘American Gigolo’ is compulsively sexual. He is a man who receives his identity by giving sexual pleasure but has no concept of receiving sexual pleasure,” Schrader told New York Times. Still, Schrader’s film is not outrightly distanced from reality. It does offer a window to the nuances of escorting as a profession, the dynamics of affection and other emotions involved with the same, and the presence of male escorts in the upper strata of society.

Rather than a remake or sequel, Showtime’s ‘American Gigolo’ is a “reimagining” of Schrader’s film. In the show, the protagonist Julian’s storyline is different from the film’s Julian. While the former starts a new life after getting wrongfully convicted, the latter fights to avoid one. Still, “getting framed for a murder” plays a significant role in both the film and the show. The show also offers a backstory to Julian’s life, depicting how he became a gigolo, something the film never addresses.

Image Credit: Warrick Page/Showtime

Michelle Stratton’s storyline is also different in the show when compared to the film. In the show, Michelle is a mother while in the film, she decides against becoming a mother after starting to share her life with Julian. But the unhappy marriage Michelle endures in the film is present in the show as well. Lorenzo, Julian’s best friend in the show, is the counterpart of the film’s Leon James. Rosie O’Donnell plays Hector Elizondo’s Detective Sunday in the Showtime series after the character’s gender change.

Although Showtime’s ‘American Gigolo’ is a reimagining of an iconic film, it has its own independence and identity. While Schrader’s film prominently focuses on Julian’s loneliness and the lack of affection he receives as a gigolo, the show is more of a murder mystery than an exploration of a gigolo protagonist’s life. In addition, Schrader neither was involved in the creation of the show nor did he wishes to even see the same. “AMERICAN GIGOLO. After the Showtime trailer appeared online I’ve been asked if I am involved. The answer is No,” the director of the film clarified.

Schrader believed that his film doesn’t warrant a remake as a series. “Some years ago I received a call from Paramount asking about remaking American Gigolo as a series. I replied that I thought it was a terrible idea–times had changed, internet porn had redefined male sex work, viruses, etc. I couldn’t imagine Julian Kay working a Hen Party,” he added. However, Jerry Bruckheimer and Paramount Pictures had the film’s rights to proceed with the creation of the show without Schrader on board. “I don’t plan to watch the Showtime series. I don’t think I could be objective about it and, even if I could, it’s too much agita,” Schrader further shared.

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