EXCLUSIVE: MadRiver Pictures has set James Gray to direct its untitled John F. Kennedy biopic, which will focus on JFK’s evolution from an unremarkable young man desperate to prove his mettle to his powerful father, into a WWII hero whose triumph over adversity-hardened leadership skills that forged his path to the White House.
Gray will rewrite a script that was first penned by Samuel Franco & Evan Kilgore, and the plan is to get underway next year. This comes as Focus Features today opens Armageddon Time, Gray’s coming of age film that premiered at Cannes last May and at the Telluride and New York Film Festivals. Gray and the film just got a Gotham Awards nom for Best Screenplay.
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MadRiver Pictures’ Marc Butan will produce with Anthony Katagas, marking their sixth collaboration with Gray. Jacqueline de Croÿ will be executive producer under her Dear Gaia Films banner, which partnered on the development with MadRiver.
Kennedy was the commander of a patrol torpedo boat on the prowl for Japanese destroyers in August 1943. After a battle with several Japanese ships, PT 109 was inadvertently rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagin, and that was the beginning of a harrowing week for the future president. Two died in the explosion, and Kennedy gathered the rest of the men — some were burned, others had swallowed fuel-soaked seawater, and two others couldn’t swim — and tried to salvage the ship but could not send rescue flares for fear of drawing the enemy.
After the vessel went down, Kennedy organized his men for a three-mile swim to an island. His experience as a Harvard swim team member came in handy as he lugged an injured shipmate kept afloat with a life preserver. After finding the island, Kennedy swam to another island looking for rescuers, nearly drowning on the return leg. He made several harrowing trips before he and his shipmates engaged friendly locals and after scrawling an SOS on a coconut, they were finally located by rescuers. Though JFK won medals and qualified for a Purple Heart, he was sanguine about his heroism, saying “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” But the story found its way to The New Yorker and Reader’s Digest and later, it helped his launch into politics. It was also previously done as a film with Cliff Robertson playing JFK in PT 109 in 1963.
“It’s an honor to be on board this project with the fantastic producing team at MadRiver,” said Gray. “JFK is a figure that’s captivated the attention of the world for decades, as an American president, an ally of the Civil Rights movement and a cultural icon. But this is a unique opportunity to sweep away the myth and explore a side we don’t know at all.”
CAA Media Finance is representing worldwide rights on the film.
Gray is repped by CAA and Darren Trattner at Jackoway Austen Tyerman.
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