By Steven Zeitchik
5:47 PM EDT, September 3, 2013
Maybe it's the ongoing success of "Lee Daniels' The Butler," or perhaps just the start of soulful autumnal nights, but something has put us in a jazzy, Louis Armstrong kind of mood.
All of which is enough to make one wonder if "Something Wonderful," a long-gestating movie about Louis Armstrong from "Butler" star Forest Whitaker, still has a shot of getting off the ground.
The man at the controls says it does.
Whitaker tells The Times that he'd still like to direct and act in the independent production, and that he’s been working to develop the script with the veteran screenwriter Ron Bass ("Rain Man," "The Joy Luck Club").
Fittingly for a man who has played in some unconventional biopics — “The Butler,” after all, is less a narrow depiction of its title character as it is a chronicling of racial politics — the film won’t follow the traditional cradle-to-grave path.
“I’m not telling the story like a biopic,” Whitaker said. “I’m telling it more like a myth, where it’s several points of view at the same time, the point of view of Louis and the point of view of a kid.”
Armstrong, Whitaker noted, had a mentally challenged adoptive son, and Whitaker says the movie could use his point of view to illuminate the jazz legend. “It will be through each of their eyes, and then it will kind of merge,” said Whitaker, who in addition to his prolific acting career has made forays into directing with movies such as "Waiting to Exhale" and "Hope Floats," the former also with Bass.
Whitaker will have a busy few months ahead. He has plenty of campaigning to do on “The Butler,” for which his Cecil Gaines role has generated best actor Oscar talk. And early in the new year he’s hoping to star as Desmond Tutu in Roland Joffé’s “The Archbishop and the Antichrist,” a movie about the unlikely relationship between the Nobel Peace Prize winner and a mass murderer.
Whitaker, who is known for playing real-life characters — early in his career he played Charlie Parker, and he of course won an Oscar for playing Idi Amin — says he thinks there is something inspirational about the Armstrong-inspired tale.
“I want to see the spirit of him in this movie," Whitaker said. “I want you to walk out of the theater singing, having just seen that Louis went to the store and 5-year olds start singing 'It’s a Wonderful World,’ and everyone in the whole community started singing with him, even the horses.”
Whitaker added, “It’s about him bringing a family together, the family of man.”
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