After winning a Best Actor Oscar for his role in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker has only had a handful of high-profile projects. Other than a turn on TV’s Criminal Minds and a supporting role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle The Last Stand, none of his more recent choices have had the same impact as his larger-than-life role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

The 2013 awards season could prove different, however. Whitaker headlines Precious director Lee Daniels’ upcoming drama The Butler, and now The Wrap reports that he is in talks to portray legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in The Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass’ long-in-the-works biopic Memphis.

Greengrass wrote the script for Memphis himself, based on his personal research into the last days of King and the immediate aftermath of his assassination by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He approached Scott Rudin (No Country For Old Men) to produce in 2011 but that version did not come together. The director and producer moved on to make the true-story modern pirate drama Captain Phillips, which releases this year.

Memphis looks to be a go now, with Abu Dhabi-based Veritas Films and French financier Wild Bunch backing the film. The script is reportedly a warts-and-all examination of King as he arrives in Memphis to support a strike by black public sanitation employees.

With his marriage on the rocks, King was said to be smoking and drinking heavily. He was out of favor with President Lyndon Johnson due to his outspoken criticism of the war in Vietnam and his popularity was waning as the Black Power movement caught on and his nonviolent approach was seen as ineffective. Greengrass is said to be taking the same “docu-drama” approach to make this as his previous true-life stories Bloody Sunday and United 93.

The project has been reported as virtually dead and then back to life before, but with Whitaker’s name involved, it really looks like Greengrass’ film will happen. MLK’s life is a thorny subject, and while he was last portrayed by Jeffrey Wright in the 2001 HBO original movie Boycott, projects such as Lee Daniels’ Selma and Orders to Kill with Hugh Jackman as an attorney investigating the assassination failed to materialize.

Greengrass’ project sounds particularly interesting given that it’s apparently not based on any pre-existing biographical property but on the director’s own research. It sounds like a personal project in the vein of Oliver Stone’s JFK, which was similarly controversial. While we have the basic facts of what happened to King, the details are not widely known. King’s family – who have a competing biopic set up at DreamWorks – are said to be unhappy with Greengrass’ script, which may shed light on some unsavory aspects of the man (such as his long-rumored infidelities).

If there is one director who can present a strikingly realistic and multi-faceted portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s Paul Greengrass. His touch with real-life subject matter has resulted in some remarkable films. He has never shied away from overt politics, but while his Bourne movies successfully mixed them with popcorn entertainment,  his Iraq thriller The Green Zone placed them front and center and promptly bombed at the box office. Time will tell how Memphis works but stay tuned for details as they emerge.

In the meantime, The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker (and featuring MLK as a character) opens on August 16th, 2013. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks opens on October 11th, 2013.

Source: The Wrap