Joe Exotic's Husband Dillon Passage Surprised by Nicolas Cage Casting, Has Ideas for Who Should Play Him

Exclusive! Dillon Passage opens up about the casting choices for an upcoming scripted series about his husband, Joe Exotic.

By Chris Harnick, Jessica Finn May 05, 2020 2:58 PMTags
Watch: "Tiger King": Nicolas Cage to Play Joe Exotic in Limited Series

Dillon Passage, husband to Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage), the infamous subject of Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, never thought the various scripted projects about the life of his husband would come together. That changed when Nicolas Cage signed on to play Joe Exotic in a limited series project from CBS Television Studios and Imagine Television.

"I thought they were talking out their ass about a making movie, but it's legit now I guess," Passage told E! News in an exclusive interview. "I'm pretty excited. It'll be interesting to see how somebody else portrays this because obviously I've lived this, but I'm excited to see how this all turns out."

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The new series, which is different from the UCP one with Kate McKinnon attached to play Carole Baskin, is based on the Texas Monthly article "Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey Into the World of a Man Gone Wild," by Leif Reigstad. Executive producers Dan Lagana and Paul Young optioned the article through Lagana's overall deal at CBS Television Studios in June of 2019, months before the release of Tiger King. In the eight-episode limited series, currently titled Joe Exotic, Cage will play the title character, described as "an eccentric, exotic zookeeper in Oklahoma who fights to keep his park — even at the risk of losing his sanity." The series will explore how he became Joe Exotic, and "how he lost himself to a character of his own creation."

The real Joe Exotic married Passage in 2017.

"I'm really hoping for either Zac Efron or Paul Wesley to play me," Passage said. "I couldn't imagine who would play anyone else, they are such an insane cast of characters, I don't know how anyone is going to capture them, but it'll definitely be interesting to see."

Passage said the choice of Cage in the lead role surprised him. "He is A-list. And, I really thought it would be David Spade with his Joe Dirt-looking ass," Passage said. "I haven't spoken to Joe since this news came out. He was put back into quarantine since the prison population has something like 300 [COVID-19] cases. He thinks he is in quarantine because they are trying to punish him, but it's not at all about that, it's for his health. And he has his autoimmune disease so it's really for his own protection because if he gets sick, he's like done for."

According to Passage, Joe Exotic will be "so excited to see Nic Cage is playing him."

"He has no idea how big he really is. I've tried to explain it but he doesn't get it," Passage said. "If they ask for my help with the movie, I'd definitely want to be helping, if I get to meet Nic Cage, hell yeah!"

In addition to American Vandal's Lagana, who will serve as showrunner, executive producers on the series include Young, Cage, Brian Grazer, Samie Kim Falvey, Scott Brown and Megan Creydt. The project will be shopped around for a network or streaming home. Saturday Night Live's McKinnon is attached to play Baskin in a separate series based on the Wondery podcast about Joe Exotic.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness told the story of Joe Exotic and his big cat zoo, Baskin and her big cat activism and their growing feud that culminated in a murder-for-hire plot the Joe Exotic was charged for and imprisoned over.