EXCLUSIVE: Charlie Matthau and Denise O’Dell have optioned rights to Juste De Nin’s Spanish-language graphic novel Garbo: The Spy Who Fooled Hitler, which is set to become the latest directorial vehicle for Matthau.
The film will be produced under the name Bodyguard of Lies, and tells the incredible true story of Juan Pujol Garcia, a failed Spanish chicken farmer who, incredibly, became one of the greatest, if not the most successful, spies of World War II, whose deceptive work saved what is estimated at about 14 million lives. Reuben Sack, Justin Parker, Bradley McManus and Matthau are writing the screenplay, with plans to film on location in Lisbon, Madrid and London. It will be a co-production between O’Dell’s Babieka Films and The Matthau Company.
At the recent Cannes Film Festival where they were seeking further financing for the project, Matthau told me he was seeking a comedic actor for the title role, someone like a young Peter Sellers. It’s a wild role to be sure: Pujol deliberately became a double agent against Nazi Germany during the war and moved to England to carry out a number of fictional spying jobs for the Nazis, going by his British code name Garbo and German code name Alaric Arabel.
Initially he attempted to become a spy for the Americans and Brits, but neither was impressed by this chicken farmer. Nevertheless, he created an altar-ego as a pro Nazi Spanish Government official and weaseled his way into becoming a German agent instructed to travel to Britain to recruit other agents. Instead, he set up his bogus operations in Lisbon where he created numerous false reports and invented sub-agents that could later be blamed for false information. He finally won the trust of the Allies when they noticed the Germans were spending considerable time and money to hunt down a fictional convoy. He spent the rest of the war creating and expanding his fictional network and fooling the Germans every step of the way.
As it turned out, the Nazi regime wound up funding 27 completely non-existent “agents.” Among his triumphs was having a key role in the success of Operation Fortitude, which was designed to mislead the Germans about the planned invasion of Normandy on D-Day 1944.
Matthau, son of Oscar-winning actor Walter Matthau, has previously directed the well-received indie The Grass Harp, with other directorial credits including Doin’ Time On Planet Earth, 2012’s Freaky Deaky, and The Book of Leah starring Armand Assante which is currently in postproduction. Early in his career he directed a couple of TV films, The Marriage Fool and Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love which both starred his father.
O’Dell has worked on more than 30 films in various producing capacities including for Ridley Scott on Kingdom of Heaven, The Counselor, and Exodus: Of Gods and Kings as well as most recently on the 2017 Christian Bale starrer The Promise on which she was an executive producer.