Think Will Smith as Muhammad Ali. Think Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. That’s the burden (and the opportunity) that will be placed on the shoulders of the actor who eventually takes the field as Jackie Robinson. Legendary Pictures and former Disney exec Dick Cook announced today that they’ve made a deal with the Robinson estate and are finally positioned to bring the story of modern baseball’s first African-American player to the screen after years of attempted projects from Spike Lee, Ken Burns, and Robert Redford, who is not involved with this most recent incarnation.
Brian Helgeland is writing and directing, but who has the physicality, the intensity, and the innate dignity to play Robinson — who was 28 years old when he finally played his first major league game? In April, we nominated Derek Luke (Lions for Lambs) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), and readers offered some other interesting possibilities. Mehcad Brooks (True Blood) has the athletic prowess that purists would expect, and Rob Brown (The Express) already knows what’s it like to play a sports legend, Heisman winner Ernie Davis. Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights) might be a little young at 24, but his Vince Howard character had a burning desire for greatness that Robinson personified; another FNL alum, Aldis Hodge (Leverage) can definitely channel Robinson’s fierceness.
Robinson’s life has been the subject of a few movies, mostly on TV. Andre Braugher played the proud young superstar in 1990’s The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson, but that TV movie focused on his pre-baseball days in the military. In the 1950 feature, The Jackie Robinson Story, the Hall of Famer played himself — who else could possible have done it in 1950 Hollywood?! Like the baseball legend himself, who was handpicked not only for his abilities on the diamond but also the maturity and discipline required to be a social trailblazer, the actor who plays Robinson in Helgeland’s film takes on a huge responsibility. Who would you draft for the role of a lifetime?