Legendary Pictures has announced it has made a deal to collaborate with the estate of Jackie Robinson and his widow Rachel on a feature biopic about the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman who broke Major League Baseball’s color line. Brian Helgeland will write the script and direct the film. Legendary chairman Thomas Tull will produce and Jon Jashni will be exec producer. Notably, Dick Cook, who has been quiet since leaving as Walt Disney Studios chairman, will be an exec producer on the film, which will be made under Legendary’s overall deal at Warner Bros. Cook is on the Legendary board and he and Tull have become close. They are also big baseball fans, which led to Cook involving himself in the picture.
Hollywood has long been interested in bringing Robinson’s story to the screen. Spike Lee once tried to direct a version with Denzel Washington in the lead role. And Robert Redford has for years tried to tackle the story from the vantage point of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed Robinson and put him on the team. Redford has long wanted to play the role of Rickey. The project was stalled for years, though it recently got ink that it was resuscitated, mainly on the basis of Redford saying he still wanted to play the role, though there was no indication of who would fund it.
Robinson’s speed, defense and hitting ability made him a Hall of Famer, but the core of any film about him was the discipline and quiet determination he showed in not reacting to the taunts and threats of racist fans and fellow ballplayers. Robinson opened the door for other black stars who followed him, like Larry Doby and Roy Campanella, and so his legacy goes way beyond hitting statistics. Robinson played himself in the 1950 pic The Jackie Robinson Story.
“We are deeply honored and grateful to be able to bring the Jackie Robinson story to audiences around the world,” Tull said in a statement. “The legacy he left on history, society and the sport of baseball is one that will never be forgotten, and we are pleased to tell this amazing story of a true American hero.”
While those other Jackie Robinson projects stalled, this one has a good chance to happen, if only because Tull has the passion and wherewithal to fund a film he cares about. Legendary is known mostly for being a co-financier/producer of films like The Hangover Part II, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel, but Tull has also been gravitating to movies about icons who fascinate him. He tried to develop a film about iconic 60s rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, but halted the project when he could not get the Hendrix estate on board, even though Tull had Paul Greengrass lined up to direct the picture and The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie poised to star.