Jake Gyllenhaal will portray West Side Story composer and New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein in the upcoming film The American, which is set to begin production this fall, Deadline reports. Cary Joji Fukunaga will direct and produce.
Adapted from Humphrey Burton’s 2001 biography Leonard Bernstein, Michael Mitnick’s inspired screenplay for The American pays tribute to the larger-than-life musical genius by structuring the film in five distinct movements, like a symphony. In addition to his artistic endeavors, the film will explore Bernstein's personal life, and his struggle to live up to his own expectations as an artist.
The American will also capture Bernstein’s unexpected conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 25, a legendary concert that launched his career on the world stage. Bernstein had just been named assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in November 1943 when he was called upon to step in at the last minute and conduct unrehearsed. CBS Radio was broadcasting the concert nationwide that evening, and Bernstein became famous overnight, making the front page of the New York Times the following day.
“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 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.”
Gyllenhaal recently appeared on Broadway in a limited revival of Sunday in the Park With George, as well as an acclaimed Encores! mounting of Little Shop of Horrors, opposite original star Ellen Greene. He made his 2015 Broadway debut in Constellations.