Jake Gyllenhaal is the unsung hero of the fall movie season. Jamie Lee Curtis previously revealed Gyllenhaal helped convince her to return to the “Halloween” franchise for David Gordon Green’s upcoming reboot, and now Barry Jenkins tells the Los Angeles Times that it was the actor who inadvertently helped him land the rights to James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Baldwin’s estate is extremely selective with selling the rights to the author’s work. Gyllenhaal, who Jenkins describes as “a big Baldwin fan,” already had his foot in the door with the estate for another project prior to Jenkins asking about “Beale Street.” Jenkins contacted the estate long before “Moonlight” became the Oscar winner for best picture and he only had his directorial debut, “Medicine for Melancholy,” under his belt.
According to Jenkins, Gyllenhaal’s celebrity as one of the most recognizable actors in the world is what steered Baldwin’s estate in the filmmaker’s favor. The woman who runs the official documents for Baldwin’s estate told Jenkins over the phone that “we don’t ever want to be the kind of estate that only listens to famous people,” which is why they went forward with Jenkins in the first place.
“I was nobody at the time,” Jenkins said. “[The woman said], ‘So when your package came through, we were like, we might as well listen to this guy named Barry Jenkins.’ And here we are.”
The “package” the woman referred to was Jenkins’ already-written “Beale Street” script. The director sent his entire adaptation to the estate as his pitch to get the rights to Baldwin’s novel.
“Baldwin’s legacy is very rich and, I would say, important, justifiably so, and so, instead of coming to them and pitching about what I was going to do, I just handed them the script,” Jenkins said. “It was really clear what I was planning to do and the adaptation was more or less faithful [to the book]. I can’t speak for [Baldwin’s sister Gloria Karefa-Smart], but she watched ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ and saw something in it that translates well to Baldwin.”
“Beale Street,” starring Kiki Layne, Stephan James, and Regina King, centers on the love story between a pregnant young woman and her wrongfully incarcerated boyfriend. The film premiered to rave reviews at TIFF and will screen at the New York Film Festival next month. Annapurna is set to release “Beale Street” in select theaters November 30.