Jake Gyllenhaal to Play Leonard Bernstein in The American

Leonard Bernstein, who scored the music for classic films, gets a movie of his own.

Jake Gyllenhaal will star as one of the most influential figures in American music, Leonard Bernstein, in The American, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film will be directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who directed all the episodes of the first season of HBO’s True Detective, as well as Netflix’s war drama Beasts of No Nation.

The screenplay, which is based on the biography Leonard Bernstein by Humphrey Burton, was written by Michael Mitnick (Vinyl, The Giver).

“In five movements, like a symphony, The American follows Leonard Bernstein from conducting the New York Philharmonic at the impressive age of 25 through the meteoric rise to fame, all while struggling both personally and publicly to be everything that everyone expected him to be, most of all himself,” according to the official plot synopsis.

Fresh from starring as survivor from the Boston Marathon bombings in the 2017’s Stronger, The American is a return to biographical pictures for Gyllenhaal, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Brokeback Mountain. “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, via THR. “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.”

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“Bernstein’s artistic passions changed the way generations understood and appreciated music. 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,” said Fukunaga.

Leonard Bernstein was a conductor, composer, pianist, author, TV personality, and the music director of the New York Philharmonic for over 10 years. The Harvard graduate was 25 when he was named Assistant Conductor for the New York Philharmonic. The rocking 1950s version of George Gershwin, Bernstein bridged the worlds of popular and concert music in his scores for the musicals West Side Story and On the Town and the comic opera Candide.  

Bernstein composed the music behind the classic gangster tattle-tale On the Waterfront, which earned him an Oscar nomination. His televised concerts won 11 Emmy Awards. Bernstein was given the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1985. He oversaw concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York Symphony Orchestra concerts, and wagged his wand in London, Milan and Tel Aviv. Bernstein died from mesothelioma at age 72 in October 1990, five days after he retired from conducting.

The American isn’t the only Bernstein biopic in the planning stages. Steven Spielberg reportedly held a table read for film on the esteemed conductor. Josh Singer reportedly wrote a screenplay which may be developed by Paramount. Martin Scorsese was attached at one point.

The American will be produced by Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories, which produced Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife, starring Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan.

The American is set to begin principal photography this fall.

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