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Robert Redford will star in a revamped tale of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson

April 6, 2011 |  3:10 pm

Redford
EXCLUSIVE: He starred in one of the most famous fictional baseball movies of all time. Now Robert Redford looks to play one of the most famous real-life baseball figures of all time.

The "Natural" star is on board to play Branch Rickey in a long-gestating, recently jump-started version of a historical drama involving the Brooklyn Dodgers executive and Jackie Robinson, the black player he famously signed.

The as-yet untitled film will be financed by Thomas Tull's Legendary Pictures, which has a first-look deal with Warner Bros. and a long history of co-financing pictures with them. Robinson's part is not yet cast.

"L.A. Confidental" and "Mystic River" writer Brian Helgeland will write and direct the film, Redford said, penning a draft of an earlier version written by, among others, "John Adams" scribe Kirk Ellis. A Helgeland representative declined to comment. [Update, 6:49 p.m.: A source close to Legendary said that Helgeland will be offering an original take.]

The film project has existed in various incarnations before, at one point being developed under ESPN Films with the writers of "Ali," and Redford loosely attached. News about the race-themed drama seems particularly pointed coming just as "Memphis,"  a Martin Luther King biopic directed by Paul Greengrass, has fallen apart.Rickey

Redford's film will look less at the specifics of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier and more at the complex relationship between Rickey, who scholars believed integrated baseball for reasons of both idealism and economics, and Robinson, the second baseman who faced tremendous discrimination when he signed with the Dodgers system in 1945.

"No one really knows the Rickey part, the political maneuvers and the partnership they had to share," Redford said. "It's the story underneath the story you thought you knew." (Rickey, the subject of a new biography by Jimmy Breslin, is a former player who also ushered in other innovations, including the modern farm system and the use of equipment such as the batting helmet. Redford has a long association with baseball; he played at Van Nuys High with Don Drysdale and most recently threw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs' season opener.)

The Sundance founder directs a similarly the-American-history-you-thought-you-knew picture with his upcoming Mary Surratt drama "The Conspirator" (more on that shortly). He said the Rickey-Robinson film, along with a potential lead turn as Bill Bryson in "A Walk in the Woods," represents his desire to get back in front of the camera. Redford last starred in a movie he didn't direct six years ago, in Lasse Hallstrom's "An Unfinished Life."

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photos: Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs season opener. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press; Jackie Robinsion embracing Branch Rickey in 1962. Credit: Associated Press

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