The Most Famous Dodger Hits the Screen
After decades of failed attempts, Jackie Robinson gets a big-league biopic.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in baseball." But audiences will need hankies when the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 hits the multiplex. Named after his jersey number, the film chronicles Robinson's breaking of the big league's color barrier when Branch Rickey signed him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
For years, Hollywood has tried to adapt the story -- Spike Lee wanted to put Denzel Washington in Jackie's cleats -- but Robinson's widow, Rachel, refused to relinquish the life rights. (Long ago, Robinson starred as himself in a 1950 biopic.) Enter Legendary Pictures' Thomas Tull, a baseball fan (he once tried to buy the San Diego Padres) who just wrapped the Dark Knight franchise.
"She looked at our body of work and ultimately, thankfully, decided to share his story with us," says Tull. "It was clear to her this project was extraordinarily important to us, and [writer-director] Brian Helgeland did a great job making Mrs. Robinson comfortable."
Legendary, which fully financed 42 and will release it April 12 through Warner Bros., is laying a sizable bet (just south of $40 million) that Robinson's story is a universal one, given that baseball movies don't traditionally fare well overseas. (Neither do films with African-American leads -- relative unknown Chadwick Boseman, who beat out names like Anthony Mackie, is playing Robinson -- though having Harrison Ford on board as Rickey will help.)
"This is just one of those movies we felt compelled to tell," says Tull. "You see a man who withstood abuse that is hard for any of us to truly imagine. Yes, it's a baseball story, but we think it's also a hero's journey that will resonate with everybody."