Who Else Got the Call to Star in Robert Redford’s Chicago Series?

The Sundance Institute founder is executive producing Chicagoland, an eight-part reality show about life on the Third Coast. We had a tough casting call, but here they are, ready for their close-up.

Artists Zhou Brothers of Bridgeport Chicago

Photo by: Zhou B. Art Center Zhou Brothers DaHuang Zhoushi (standing) and ShanZuo Zhoushi with their painting Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall.

There’s a swirl of fascinating characters that make Chicago a world-class city. In all probability, if you asked most dwellers to name just three that Redford’s people should “not forget to talk to,” you’ll have enough stories for 20 volumes of War and Peace. So we put together our own top-five list (one's a team) of some of the most interesting people in town that would be great story material – stars! – for the CNN program. Mr. Redford, we submit a sample of Chicago’s finest. 

The Zhou Brothers – Five Chicago mayors herald from the same South Side city of Bridgeport. That’s quite a mash-up, so something’s going on down there. Art, for one. When you want to know about a city, talk to the artists. We pick these: DaHuang and ShanZuo Zhoushi, a collaborative team known as the Zhou Brothers who create paintings, mixed media and sculpture that are a riot of sublime, rugged, difficult, transcending and provoking ideas. The brothers emigrated to the U.S. from China (with $30 between them) and made the South Side town their home in 1986. Fast forward to this East-meets-West moment: In 2010 they were commissioned by President Barack Obama for the work Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall, a gift to China's president Hu Jingtao. Okay, how did that happen? Today, they are international superstars. Theirs is the quintessential Chicago story and you should listen, Mr. Redford. Start with a stroll through the Zhou B. Art Center. We promise: You won’t know what hit you.

Mike Sula – It’s about food, here. Sula, who writes a column for the Reader, has a spicy pen that stains, sears and compliments. He’s the local food taster, never shy to lay siege on “egocentric cheffy autocracy,” or opine on a restaurant’s “culinary narrative,” or spear entire cities for weak sandwiches (like he did with Lincoln Square). He's too marvelous for words. If you didn’t know, Sula single-handedly kept Chicago and the rest of the world safe from the Mayan Calendar meltdown. (Bogus, see?) It was coming not from above, but below, on your fork. The point is, he warned you. Mr. Redford, go eat through town with this dude, take in the flesh of Chicago’s flesh, and become like us.

Maria Christopoulos Katris – Where is the spot for startup businesses? People think New York or San Francisco, right? But check out the crush of new businesses coming out of Chicago. And a driving force of this new entrepreneur mecca is Built in Chicago, an online networking pool for innovators, venture capitalists, geeks, techies and people with big ideas, big plans and the talent needed to launch. As CEO, Katris runs the ship. Talk to her. Let her give you a virtual tour of these budding giants and what Chicago is creating.  And don’t forget to check out the Chicago Digital Ecosystem or the Mergers and Acquisitions tally. Numbers that impress. 

Lee Bey – Few know the city like Bey, the exterior and the interior, the north, south and west. As architectural critic for WBEZ he digs up the odd, the obscure and thought-provoking stories on buildings and city life across all strata and neighborhoods. He was a reporter for the Sun-Times and worked as Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Design under Mayor Daley. But that’s just the hors d'oeuvres. He’s the former executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, a group of about 75 prominent business people with input on what gets developed in the Loop. One of the things we dig about Bey is the way he can make you see the soul of a building. Ask him to show you one or two.

Kathy Griffin – Yeah, we know. She moved away to that other coast to become a big star. But she trots through town for gigs, and knows this terrain like a native daughter should. The woman semi-famous for the Bravo reality show My Life on The D-List, but doubly famous for mixing comedy with activism and bringing the funny on New Year’s Eve with pal CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, has just got to have something to say about growing up here. The politics, Mayor Emanuel, and, well … exactly what doesn’t Griffin have an opinion about? We’d like to see her and Mr. Redford become better acquainted. 

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