James Gray May Direct Jeremy Renner’s Steve McQueen Biopic; Calls ‘Lost City Of Z’ Epic & Hallucinogenic

James Gray May Direct Jeremy Renner's Steve McQueen Biopic; Calls 'Lost City Of Z' Epic & Hallucinogenic
James Gray May Direct Jeremy Renner's Steve McQueen Biopic; Calls 'Lost City Of Z' Epic & Hallucinogenic

Filmmaker James Gray has made only five films in almost 20 years. Part of that is a deliberate pace and part of it is just the film business. He had a six-year gap between his striking debut “Little Odessa” and “The Yards” and the Miramax/Harvey Weinstein experience on the latter (the ending was changed for theatrical release) led to another seven-year gap. But coming off his latest film, “The Immigrant” – starring the rather impressive cast of Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner – Gray has numerous options at his finger tips. In fact, at the moment he has a kind of pile-up of projects that are ready to go script-wise, but need the funding green light.

And there are several options. On top of the thriller “The Gray Man” which is still gestating, the two that look the most promising that are both ready to go are “The Lost City Of Z” which now has Benedict Cumberbatch attached and a sci-fi project revealed today to be titled, “To The Stars.” Penned by Gray and Ethan Goss – who has written extensively for the TV series “Fringe” – we received lots of details about “To The Stars” last time we spoke to the filmmaker. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint and I have a lot of projects on the go because it seems like the films have a life on to their own,” Gray said, alluding to the commercial failure of most of his earlier films, but their enduring and long-lasting shelf life. “That’s what saves me,” he said, characteristically self-deprecating. “Actors seem to like the work and people at the studios seem to remember the films more fondly then they were first initially reviewed.”

While Gray told Omelete this week that his sci-fi project may shoot in mid-2014, in our interview he suggested it could be either that or “The Lost City Of Z.” In fact, he said he’ll know this November come the American Film Market if Benedict Cumberbatch’s name will be enough to earn a green light or if he’ll have to get another actor on board. Gray called the project “enormous” citing several million dollars for the marine budget alone (it’s set inside the Amazon jungle and travels down that enormous river). “I hope it’s not my ‘Fitzcarraldo,’ ” Gray said, referencing Werner Herzog’s own Amazon-jungle epic. As for “The Lost City of Z” he describes it as David Lean but with a “slightly more hallucinogenic feel. Because [the protagonist] went to the jungle and sorta went mad.”

“The film will be a combination of different inspirations,” he said. “When we go into the jungle the movie will hopefully find its own language, but it is an epic movie and it’s very much in the early ‘60s, 65mm epic movie style, but I have a feeling it will get a little bit more hallucinatory then that. I have huge hopes and dreams for it.”

How does that become as personal and emotional as all Gray’s films are? “That’s actually the easiest part of adapting this book – it either strikes you or doesn’t,” he said, describing the lead as an outsider. “This is a character that did everything he could to fit in and in the end he didn’t, but certainly [he] discovered something amazing. And that core struggle of his moves me very much and attracts me.”

Gray also wrote a biopic-like film about the legendary actor Steve McQueen for Jeremy Renner who was an admirer of Gray’s before he worked with him on “The Immigrant.” The two of them met after “The Hurt Locker” and Renner, who is also a producer on the movie, used his newfound Oscar-nominated juice to tap the filmmaker to pen the script. And it turns out Gray may end up directing that movie as well. “He was very good to me and a great supporter of my work,” Gray said of meeting Renner. “He still wants me to do that [Steven McQueen film], I may wind up directing that at some point.”

Meanwhile, the Boston crime drama “White Devil” is actually the one script Gray needs to complete (and he’ll be visiting the main character in prison soon), but he’s into the movie’s themes, which he calls somewhat similar to “The Lost City Of Z” – at least on the surface. It’s a Boston-based crime-drama about a Caucasian kid who is adopted into a Chinese family and ends up rising through the ranks of Boston’s Asian crime syndicate. “Within a year he was the highest ranking white guy in the Asian mafia,” he said. “He basically appropriated the culture for his own. It’s a similar idea. A guy rejected by his own who did everything he could to fit in elsewhere even though it was illegitimate.”

Meanwhile, a few new elements of Gray’s latest film “The Immigrant” have shown up. A decent sized poster featuring Marion Cotillard (via Au Feminin) and a new photo from Mubi. “The Immigrant” will be released in the spring of 2014 by RadiusTWC. Read our review from Cannes here.

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