The “bonkers” true story of software tycoon John McAfee will get the Hollywood treatment

A “bonkers” true story.
A “bonkers” true story.
Image: AP Photo/Moises Castillo
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Johnny Depp has made a living out of playing bizarre fictional characters: Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Mad Hatter. What separates his next enigmatic role from all the others, however, is that it’s completely real.

Depp will play cybersecurity magnate John McAfee in an upcoming “dark comedy,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. The film, called King of the Jungle, will be based on a 2012 Wired story that chronicled McAfee’s rise as the creator of the antivirus software that still bears his name to his startling descent into paranoia in the rainforest of Belize.

After losing much of his fortune in the 2008 financial crisis, McAfee moved to Belize, where he built a private compound near a set of Mayan ruins and started a mysterious antibiotics research laboratory. He eventually fled the country after police wanted to question him about the murder of his neighbor.

He was caught in Guatemala and, after claiming to have faked several heart attacks in order to avoid being taken back to Belize, McAfee was deported to the United States, where he remains today.

The Wired story by reporter Joshua Davis is packed with wild, cinematic anecdotes, like when Belize’s Gang Suppression Unit raided McAfee’s jungle compound, or how McAfee thinks he may still be on a psychedelic drug trip he began in 1969. Or, most terrifying of all, how he insisted on a game of Russian roulette with Davis during one of their interviews.

While living in Belize, McAfee, who kept various teenaged “girlfriends,” set up his own private militia to investigate Carmelita, a nearby village he believed was rampant with drug traffickers (a claim that’s never been corroborated). He grew increasingly paranoid that the Belizean government and pharmaceutical competitors were watching him. When the country’s Gang Suppression Unit raided his property on suspicion he was operating a meth lab, they found no such lab, but they did find an arsenal of weapons. They also couldn’t identify what was in the “hundreds of bottles of chemicals” found throughout the compound.

A few months later, now staying at an island villa he owned, McAfee became a person of interest in the murder of his neighbor Gregory Faull, another American expatriate. When police arrived, McAfee buried himself in his yard to avoid detection. Belizean prime minister Dean Barrow called the former software tycoon “bonkers,” and asked that he turn himself in for questioning. McAfee was never charged for the murder.

While his story is certainly filled with darkly comic moments, the film—and Depp’s performance—have a difficult task ahead striking the right balance between farce and tragedy. King of the Jungle will be directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the director-writer team behind Crazy, Stupid, Love and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.