EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Dern, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Nebraska and also was part of Quentin Tarantino’s ensemble cast in The Hateful Eight, has just sealed a deal to portray Kennedy family patriarch Joe Kennedy in the indie film Chappaquiddick. At the time his son Ted Kennedy drove the car off a bridge and plunged into the water trapping his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne upside down in the car, Joe Kennedy was in a wheelchair, having already suffered a debilitating stroke which took the power of speech away from him. However, that didn’t stop him from trying to protect his son that night.
Dern joins Jason Clarke (who portrays Ted Kennedy), Kate Mara (Kopechne), Ed Helms (who will play Joe Gargan) in the film being directed by John Curran. Principal photography starts after Labor Day this year.
The film follows what happened that night from the party that the young Kennedy and Kopechne attended, to the accident when the car driven by an allegedly drunk Kennedy plunged into the water, to the agonizing death of Kopechne and what occurred prior to Kennedy reporting the crash to the police nine hours later.
The project is being produced by Apex Entertainment’s Mark Ciardi and Campbell McInnes from a screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. That screenplay was on The Black List in 2015. Apex is also financing the film. DMG’s Chris Cowles and Chris Fenton are executive producing along with Allen and Logan.
The elder Kennedy’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering that night was key as his son (always trying to please his father) called him after the crash. Although he became a prisoner in his own body after the stroke, Joe Kennedy still ruled with an iron fist and at first thought it best to come up with a story to save his son’s Presidential ambitions. He quickly called in trusted Kennedy advisors including William MacNamara, Teddy Sorenson, and Sargent Shriver and created a war room in the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port to help control the story in the press and to run damage control after he realized the family couldn’t hide the incident. Joe Kennedy would die four months to the day after the July 18, 1969 death of Kopechne.
Dern, who was also just cast in Warning Shot, is repped by Innovative Artists and Pure Arts.