Jake Gyllenhaal is starring in The American, a Leonard Bernstein movie biopic that Cary Fukunaga will produce in addition to directing. The film is based on Humphrey Burton's written 1994 biography Leonard Bernstein and will begin production this fall, with BRON Studios (Tully) providing the financing. Sierra/Affinity will be selling the international distribution rights to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival next week, with Endeavor Content handling the U.S. rights.
The American is far from the only Bernstein film biopic to emerge on the scene in recent years. Martin Scorsese had his eye on bringing the legendary composer's story to the big screen back in 2015, with Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) writing the script. More recently, Steven Spielberg did a table read for a Bernstein biopic based on a separate screenplay, with the intention of possibly directing it. Scorsese has since moved on to other projects and Spielberg is gearing up to re-adapt Bernstein's musical West Side Story for the big screen instead, thus clearing the way for The American to move forward.
Deadline is reporting that The American was developed from the ground-up by Gyllenhaal and his Nine Stories banner partner, Riva Marker. The adapted script was written by Michael Mitnick and resembles the five movement structure of an actual symphony in its design. In a statement to Deadline, Gyllenhaal explained how the project came to be and expressed his admiration for the real-life Bernstein:
“Like many people, Leonard Bernstein found his way into my life and heart through West Side Story when I was a kid. But as I got older and started to learn about the scope of his work, I began to understand the extent of his unparalleled contribution and the debt of gratitude modern American culture owes him. As a man, Bernstein was a fascinating figure - full of genius and contradiction - and it will be an incredible honor to tell his story with a talent and friend like Cary.”
Mitnick previously served as a story editor on the Scorsese-produced drama series Vinyl and wrote the Thomas Edison biopic The Current War. The former has since been canceled and the latter is tangled up in the Weinstein Company's bankruptcy proceedings at the moment. For Fukunaga, The American will only be his fourth feature as director, following the films Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, and Beasts of No Nation. The filmmaker is perhaps best known for directing True Detective season 1 for HBO and has the TV series Maniac set to premiere on Netflix later this year.
Gyllenhaal is no stranger to onscreen memoirs himself, having previously starred in October Sky (based on the autobiographical book by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.) and the other Boston Marathon bombing film, Stronger. Film biopics about famous artists have a bad habit of being cookie-cutter in their design, but The American's symphony-esque structure could help it to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Between that, an excellent leading man in Gyllenhaal and an innovative storyteller like Fukunaga calling the shots, this seems like one that's destined to become an awards season contender down the line.
We will bring you more details on The American as they become available.