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Cary Fukunaga to Direct Jake Gyllenhaal in Leonard Bernstein Biopic ‘The American’

This will be Fukunaga's first feature since 2015's Venice Film Festival world premiere "Beasts of No Nation."

The American Cary FukunagaJake Gyllenhaal

“The American” director/producer Cary Fukunaga and star/producer Jake Gyllenhaal

Mark Von Holden/Variety/REX/Shutterstock, imageSPACE/REX/Shutterstock

Jake Gyllenhaal will portray “On the Waterfront” and “West Side Story” composer Leonard Bernstein in “The American,” the next film from director/producer Cary Fukunaga. Nine Stories, the Oscar-nominated actor’s (“Brokeback Mountain”) production company, will produce the biopic with financier BRON Studios. International sales will commence at this month’s Cannes Film Market; shooting starts this fall.

A Massachusetts-born Harvard graduate, Bernstein was just 25 when he was named Assistant Conductor for the New York Philharmonic, where he later served as Music Director for 11 years. He oversaw Carnegie Hall and New York Symphony Orchestra concerts, plus others in London, Milan, Tel Aviv, and more. During his career, Bernstein’s televised performances won 11 Emmy Awards, plus a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1985. “On the Waterfront” earned him an Oscar nomination. Five days after he retired from conducting in October 1990, Bernstein died from mesothelioma at age 72.

“Like many people, Leonard Bernstein found his way into my life and heart through ‘West Side Story’ when I was a kid,” Gyllenhaal said in a May 1 statement. “But as I got older and started to learn about the scope of his work, I began to understand the extent of his unparalleled contribution and the debt of gratitude modern American culture owes him. As a man, Bernstein was a fascinating figure — full of genius and contradiction — and it will be an incredible honor to tell his story with a talent and friend like Cary.”

Leonard Bernstein Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein hails on his arrival at Berlin, for two concerts on both sides of the wall with the Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraLeonard Bernstein, Berlin, Germany

Leonard Bernstein in Berlin in 1984


A 2018 Sundance Film Festival premiere, “Wildlife” — Paul Dano’s Cannes-bound, directorial debut — is the last film that tasked Gyllenhaal with acting and producing duties. Screenwriter and executive producer Michael Mitnick (“The Giver,” “The Current War”) adapted his five-movement “The American” script from author Humphrey Burton’s 2001 tome, “Leonard Bernstein.” The executive producing team also includes New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik and his wife, Martha Parker; Gyllenhaal’s business partner Riva Marker; as well as “Fences” veterans Jason Cloth and Aaron L. Gilbert.

This will be the fifth film from Fukunaga, and first since 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation,” another work produced by Marker. He directed the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” and Netflix’s eight-episode Summer 2018 “Maniac,” featuring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as stars/producers. Fukunaga also executive produced the 10-part limited-series “The Alienist,” which ran on TNT earlier this year.

“Bernstein’s artistic passions changed the way generations understood and appreciated music,” said Fukunaga. “It’s been wonderful collaborating with Michael and Jake on Bernstein’s story as we endeavor to capture both the iconic person and artist. Jake is the perfect partner to help bring this story to life and to play this legend.”

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