Yesterday, I wrote about my pal, the SciFi and Horror Hall of Fame filmmaker Mick Garris (The Stand, The Shining, and much more), and his connection to the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. The subject of the book, Louis Zamperini, is Mick's father-in-law.
I knew that once the book was released and it became a massive best-seller, the movie rights were quickly bought, and there's been an very long process about making the film. (Side note. When I say "massive bestseller," that's not even close to hyperbole. Unbroken is still #15 on the NY Times Bestseller list -- after 146 weeks!! And that's for hardcover. They haven't even released a trade paperback edition yet! After almost three years.)
They'd gone through a very long process trying to get the screenplay right, and have had some significant writers involved, most notably Richard LaGravenese (who's written The Horse Whisperer, Beloved, The Bridges of Madison County, Water for Elephants and many more). However, he eventually had to leave in order to direct his own project, Beautiful Creatures. Later the Coen Brothers came on board, even though they wouldn't be directing. (You know them: No Country for Old Men, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou and so on.) For a while, it looked like it would all be unsolvable. But finally the studio (Universal) was happy with the script.
Finding a director was almost as much a challenge,
It came as a public surprise therefore when Angelina Jolie was hired, but what Mick said is that it was stunning how much she adored the book and was otherworldly passionate about it. She just bowled everyone away with her detailed knowledge of the book and the research she'd done on the subject already, on her won. She just really, really, really wanted to direct the movie, and know how she wanted to direct, and won everyone over. She had directed before, not much and not with huge financial success, but her skill showed. And it was at her prompting that the Coen Brothers got involved.
As I mentioned, I know that the two families had met, and got along famously. And Louis and Angie (and Mick puts it) just bonded wonderfully. Though it's hard not to bond wonderfully with Lou -- a joyful guy.
Anyway, that's where I thought things stood, when I wrote my piece yesterday. I don't bug Mick on every detail of the film. And I was traveling a lot, and so was Mick. So, it came as a great surprise, and even bigger pleasure, when I mentioned how we should get together for lunch and he said his schedule was a little in limbo because they were heading down soon to Australia to the set of Unbroken.
It turns out that the movie is cast, it's about to start production and Universal even has a release date for it!
And best of all is that Louis is still around to see it being done. I should note that Louis Zamperini is 96 years old. And as vibrant and upbeat and and joyous as ever.
The man cast to play Louis (pronounced "Lou-ee", but the way, not "Lou-iss") is a young, British actor Jack O'Connell, who just won the lottery. The fact that Universal Pictures approved casting a total unknown to U.S. audiences for such a huge-profile film speaks volumes of how high they are on it. They understand that it's the book and story that's the star.
It’s odd to go to iMDB and see an actor listed as “Louis Zamperini.” But if it’s odd to me, who has only met Lou once, I can’t even imagine how odd it is for Mick, his wife Cynthia -- Lou's daughter -- and Louis himself.
Mick did say that it's weird being a part of it, even if it's from afar. But though he says he never expected to have even the slightest involvement, despite being a highly-accomplished filmmakers (in fact, some directors would find that a reason to keep another another way...), he says that Angie has kept him and the family involved in the process throughout. I am not speaking out of school when I quote one of Mick's comments in an email: "To meet her is to love her."
While it is somewhat surprising that Mick has been kept involved, in some ways it's understandable. From what he's told me, Angelina Jolie is directing this movie specifically because she’s so deeply impassioned by the story, who just utterly adores the book, and adores Louis. Someone like that likely wants the whole family as close as possible, because it’s what’s so meaningful to her, and helps make her a part of it. That Mick is also a Hall o’ Fame filmmaker helps, even if she doesn’t ask him one question. (She's got her own, trusted crew, of course.) But his credentials says he's part of the fraternity. But I’m sure of something else – I am 100% certain that at some point she asked people, “What do you know about a guy named Mick Garris?” And the word came back from everyone, “Real good guy.” And so he is.
Lots of really good people involved in this. And we'll also include the original author, Laura Hillenbrand, who's a wonderful story all on her own. With a debilitating disease, she gets exhausted easily and is unable to leave home. All her minutely-detailed research is done from home. So Louis (with whom she developed the closest relationship and dear friendship) -- at the age then of 93 -- was the one who traveled all over and did the book tour!
In fact, here he is last year on CBS Sunday Morning. If you don't know Louis' story, this does a nice job recapping it. But then, it goes soaring off onto another level entirely and becomes great. I shall say no more.
And so, Unbroken is finally moving forward, and about to start. It's about time. It was 96 years in the making.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor