EXCLUSIVE: Robert De Niro, Oscar Isaac, Donald Sutherland, and Anne Hathaway are set to join previously announced Cate Blanchett in Armageddon Time, the period drama that James Gray will next direct for RT Features.
Wild Bunch International will introduce the film to buyers at the virtual Cannes market and represent the film’s international rights. CAA Media Finance, which arranged financing, represents the film’s domestic distribution rights. WBI and CAA Media Finance are co-representing the Chinese rights.
Gray wrote and will direct, and re-teams with RT Features following their recent collaboration on Ad Astra, the Brad Pitt space thriller that co-starred Sutherland. RT Features’ Rodrigo Teixeira will produce, with Lourenço Sant’Anna and Rodrigo Gutierrez executive producing.
Gray crafted a drama based on his childhood memories, a big-hearted coming-of-age story that explores friendship and loyalty against the backdrop of an America poised to elect Ronald Reagan as president. It is very different from his recent pictures, and he hopes to shoot in New York as soon as post-pandemic opportunities make it possible. He spoke to Deadline about his ambition.
“Every film you make is different, but I’m trying to do something that is the opposite of the vast, lonely and dark void of the movie I just directed,” Gray said. “I’m anxious to make something that is very much about people, about human emotions and interactions between people, and I want it to be filled with warmth and tenderness. In some sense, yes it’s about my childhood, but an illustration of familial love really on every level. I’m of the belief that most people do their best and that they try their best under difficult circumstances and in some sense that’s a beautiful thing and very moving to me.
“In a grander sense if I may sound a little sententious and pretentious, history and myth always begin in the microcosm of the personal and though you are using something so small and specific in your life, the result can become universal if it accesses real emotion. I’ve tried to move to the opposite of a cold dark space. I want to be political and historic about it, but fill it with love and warmth. What happened with me, very simply, I got in big trouble when I was around 11, though the boys are 12 in the movie, and the story is about my movement from the public education that I got into private school and a world of privilege. This film is about what that meant for me and how lucky I was, and how unlucky my friend was and about that break meant for me and what it meant for him.”
Previous stories mentioned that the private school was one attended by future U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The private school, yes Donald Trump went there and Fred Trump was on the board of trustees,” Gray said. “It’s symbolic about what the school represented at the time, entrenched in this white protestant ethic. I found it very foreign to me, a product of the public school system in New York City of the ‘70s. It’s about that transition and how it reflects on what the American society was and sadly still is. How we are separated along the lines of class and ethnicity. The film is really about that, my transition in school from one to the other. The implications of it are quite large. The world really became clearly divided to me, based on the haves and the have-nots. I didn’t write the script last week, but rather many months ago and it’s weird in that a lot of what we’re seeing right now is playing out of many of the themes that it was my ambition to explore in the first place. This obsession I have with examining American ideas of class mobility, to do it in a context that is humane with social impact.”
Gray is bullish that when moviegoing returns, people will want to be moved, and he believes Armageddon Time will fit that bill.
“Films do intimacy and family relationships very well, even better than the theater, because in the theater your best seat is still 20 feet away from the actor,” Gray said. “In the cinema, the close-up has tremendous power. What I’m after is something really quite moving. My recollection when I think back on that moment, which is 1980 as the time frame of the movie, and what an important year it was in the history of the country and for me personally and how in some ways, I was pretty damn lucky. My parents who were not wealthy at all as a working class family, used all the levers they could, to be able to go to this school. Which simultaneously saved my life, but also awakened me to real racism and anti-Semitism. In some ways, the idea of presenting a story like this within the context of this family, told with great warmth, is sometimes your greatest Trojan Horse, to involve people emotionally that way. And story is a great weapon to be able to deliver some pretty harsh news.”
De Niro, Sutherland, Hathaway, Blanchett, Gray, and RT Features are represented by CAA. Hathaway is also represented by Management 360. Isaac is represented by WME and Inspire Entertainment.