The Sopranos star James Gandolfini is a step closer to returning to HBO‘s drama lineup with a starring role in the network’s Criminal Justice. HBO has given a pilot order to the drama project, written by Oscar nominee Richard Price (The Color Of Money) and to be directed by Oscar-wining writer Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List). Criminal Justice is a New York-set crime drama loosely based on the acclaimed 2008 BBC series of the same name created by Peter Moffat. Joining the ensemble cast led by Gandolfini are Rizwan Ahmed, Bill Camp, Peyman Moadi and Poorna Jagannathan.
The original series consisted of two five-episode seasons, each chronicling the journey of a person charged with murder through the justice system, and each featuring new characters and cast. HBO’s version follows the plot of the first season of the British series, which starred Ben Whishaw as Ben Coulter, a man who takes his father’s cab for a drive and picks up a party girl who takes him to her apartment for a drunken and drug-filled night out. When he wakes up in the morning, Ben finds the girl stabbed to death and, though he can’t remember committing the crime, he is soon charged with it. (Watch a trailer below) The season earned Criminal Justice BAFTA Awards for best drama and best writer, three Royal Television Society Awards and an International Emmy.
I’ve learned that in the U.S. version, the young man is an American-born Pakistani named Naz (Ahmed). Gandolfini plays Jack Stone, a disheveled jailhouse lawyer wearing cheap suits and sandals, who trolls for clients at police precincts. That’s where he sees Naz in a holding cell and appoints himself his attorney. (The character is expected to continue if the series is renewed for additional seasons.) Camp plays the lead detective on the case; Jagannathan — repped by Hartig Hilepo and Smith Talent Group — and Moadi play Naz’s parents.
The pilot, produced by HBO in association with BBC Worldwide Prods., is slated to shoot in New York this fall. It was written by Price and will be directed by Zaillian who is set expected to write/co-write future episodes. Gandolfini will executive produce through his Attaboy banner along with Zaillian, Price, Moffat, BBC Worldwide Prods’ Jane Tranter and Gandolfini’s managers Nancy Sanders and Mark Armstrong. Garrett Basch of Zaillian’s Film Rites is a producer.
HBO, where Gandolfini has had deals since 2006, has been looking to find a new series vehicle for the Emmy winner, a follow-up to his iconic role on the network’s mob drama Sopranos. He has flirted with a number of HBO projects — including a U.S. version of the hit French Canadian comedy series Taxi-22, and Big Dead Place, a comedic drama set in the Antarctic — but Criminal Justice is the first project that he committed to and that is moving to production. On the longform side, CAA-repped Gandolfini starred in the HBO film Cinema Verite and executive produced the biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. He will next be seen in the feature Killing Them Softly opposite Brad Pitt. Film Rites’ upcoming feature slate includes Freezing People Is Easy, with Paul Rudd and Kristen Wiig starring and Errol Morris directing from a script by Zach Helm, who also wrote Deep Water, a thriller that Film Rites is producing for Fox 2000. The company is currently packaging Timur Bekmambetov’s The Current War and Ridley Scott’s Red Riding.
Criminal Justice joins two other recent pilot orders at HBO, to comedies Hello Ladies and Getting On, which is also based is on a BBC format and co-produced by BBC Worldwide Prods. The network also recently gave a straight-to-series order to Christopher Guest’s comedy Family Tree starring Chris O’Dowd.