James Franco Casts Lead in Sal Mineo Biopic (Exclusive)

James Franco Val Lauren Split 2011

Val Lauren joins the tentatively titled "Sal," which tells the story of the enigmatic actor best known for his appearance opposite James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause."

James Franco's forthcoming Sal Mineo biopic has cast Val Lauren in the titular role.

The film, tentatively titled Sal, tells the story of the enigmatic actor best known for his appearance opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Produced by Franco's Rabbit Bandini shingle, the film will begin shooting in Los Angeles in early summer. It has been adapted for the screen by Franco from a recently released biography of Mineo by Michael Gregg Michaud.

Lauren's credits include the independent film Dallas 362 (2003) and Help, a short film he wrote, directed and produced.

Mineo, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar twice -- in 1955 for Rebel and in 1960 for Exodus -- was murdered in West Hollywood in 1976 at the age of 37. The actor, who was gay, played the part of John "Plato" Crawford in Rebel; Mineo broke ground for his subtle portrayal of a homosexual character.

"Sal Mineo himself was an extraordinary and super complex guy," Lauren tells The Hollywood Reporter. "People know him for Rebel Without a Cause, but he was technically the first actor who came out of the closet. He was very brave."

Last year, Franco, who won a Golden Globe for playing James Dean in a 2001 TV movie, optioned the film rights to Michaud's Sal Mineo: A Biography. The CAA-repped Franco will also direct the movie, though he will not appear in it, as some have speculated, says Michaud.

Lauren will next appear as a guest star on the season finale of CBS's Hawaii Five-0, which airs May 16. Also, the actor is slated to adapt Help into a feature for Openfilm, an Internet-based film distribution company. The project came after the actor won Openfilm's Get It Made competition for short filmmakers.

He is represented by Todd Maginn of Peter Strain & Associates.

Email: Daniel.Miller@thr.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller