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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Chloe Grace Moretz have signed on to star as cult leader Jim Jones and Jonestown survivor Deborah Layton in White Night, a psychological thriller about Jones’ infamous People’s Temple cult.
From his base in San Francisco, the charismatic preacher Jones built a large and devoted following. In 1974, he established “Jonestown” in Guyana. It was there, on Nov. 18, 1978, that Jones commanded his followers to drink poison. More than 900 people died in one of the largest mass murder-suicides on record.
Anne Sewitsky (A Very British Scandal) will direct the adaptation of Layton’s best-selling memoir, Seductive Poison, from a script by William Wheeler (The Ghost in the Shell).
FilmNation Entertainment is financing the film and will produce it together with Archer Gray. FilmNation is handling worldwide sales and will launch the project at Berlin’s European Film Market next week.
Moretz will play Layton, who was drawn into Jones’ inner circle and became a leading member of the People’s Temple before finding out the truth about him and trying to expose him to the world.
“Debbie Layton’s Seductive Poison was the first book Anne Carey and I optioned at Archer Gray, and it formed the foundation of our mission to help give voice to the stories it was time to hear,” said Archer Gray CEO Amy Nauiokas. “Debbie’s incredible journey with the People’s Temple deserves an audience across generations. It should serve as a warning about the power a certain type of charismatic leader can have and the very real lessons to be learned from our history.”
“When we first read Bill Wheeler’s adaptation, it was seeing this infamous story from Deborah’s point of view that unlocked it psychologically and dramatically,” added FilmNation president of production Ashley Fox. “Entering Jim Jones’ magnetic orbit through the eyes of an idealistic, passionate young woman reminded us that anyone can fall victim to extremism, given the right circumstances.”
FilmNation’s White Night isn’t the only Jonestown project in development. As THR reported, Leonardo DiCaprio has also signed on to play Jim Jones in a film written by Scott Rosenberg (Venom). DiCaprio will also produce, alongside Jennifer Davisson through their Appian Way banner. MGM picked up the DiCaprio project in a preemptive deal. No details on when DiCaprio’s Jim Jones film is set to begin shooting.
Swedish helmer Sewitsky won a grand jury prize at Sundance with her directorial debut Happy Happy (2011) and directed the BBC/Amazon Studios miniseries A Very British Scandal, starring Claire Foy and Paul Bettany, which bows on Amazon in the U.S. in April. She has a multiyear first-look deal for TV with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot.
Moretz most recently starred in sci-fi thriller Mother/Android for Miramax and 6th & Idaho, which bowed on Hulu in December. Gordon-Levitt will next be seen playing Uber founder Travis Kalanick in the Showtime limited series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, and will be the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Robert Zemeckis’s live-action adaptation of Pinocchio.
Filming on White Nights is set to begin this spring.
Sewitsky is repped by CAA and 42MP. Moretz is repped by WME, T Squared Entertainment, Sloane Offer and Narrative. Gordon-Levitt is repped by WME, Jackoway Austen and The Spotlight Company. Wheeler is repped by WME and Anonymous Content. Archer Gray is repped by FFKS.
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