EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Richard LaGravenese to adapt Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Francis Lawrence is attached to direct the film about the unbreakable spirit of Louis Zamperini, the former Olympic track prodigy who endured unimaginable hardship as a WWII POW at the hands of Japanese prison guards.
LaGravenese will be working for the second straight time with Lawrence on a book adaptation. The scribe adapted the Sara Gruen novel Water For Elephants into the drama that Lawrence directed for Fox 2000 with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz starring. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff are producing Unbroken. Lawrence and Mick Garris are exec producers.
The studio acquired Unbroken after previously turning Hillenbrand’s book Seabiscuit into the Gary Ross-directed hit. Unbroken, which has been at or near the top of The New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks, outsold Seabiscuit in its first four weeks. It also gave momentum to a movie about Zamperini, something Universal first tried to make in 1957, when the studio optioned his rights for a movie that was going to star Tony Curtis.
Zamperini, still going strong at 93, has a remarkable survival story. As a teen, he transformed from a Depression Era trouble-maker into a world class runner who became the youngest American to compete on the US team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Though he didn’t medal, Zamperini an a final lap so fast that Hitler asked to meet him. He was expected to win a medal in the 1940 Games slated for Tokyo, but WWII ended the Games and eventually his Olympic dreams. Zamperini became an Air Force bombardier. After his aircraft went down in the Pacific during a rescue mission, he and two other crew mates floated on a raft for 47 days, battling hunger, thirst and sharks. Finally, they were caught by the Japanese Navy, and that marked the start of an even more gruesome period of captivity at the hands of Japanese guards. They were threatened with the possibility of being beheaded and were beaten brutally. One guard in particular made it his mission to break Zamperini, but the former track star would made it through.
LaGravenese also scripted Liberace, the Steven Soderbergh-directed film that will star Michael Douglas as the pianist and Matt Damon as his secret lover Scott Thorson. The scribe’s repped by CAA.