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

April 6, 2011 |  3:10 pm

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


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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Awesome! Redford would portray a great Rickey Branch. I also recently saw a sneak preview for the new movie Redford directed called, THE CONSPIRATOR, it was EXCELLENT!!! Check out the trailer, http://www.conspiratorthemovie.com

This is a good idea, Branch Rickey was innovative and inventive in the game of baseball. As for Redford he played baseball and knows the game and was great in the "Natural". Redford grew up in Southern California San Fernando Valley was a California Beach Boy type. What I want to know is, when did he go off the rails and became such a left wing loon? He bought into all this green hokum. Guys like Redford preach that do as I say, not as I do. They preach all this Socialist Enviromentalism, yet live like rich Capitolists. Hypocrisy!

I wonder how left wing this will be? You know, those evil, racist, KKK REPUBLICAN good ol boys who kept the brothers down? The forerunners to our modern Tea Baggers? Yeah, cant wait to see how Redford shapes history(HISstory?)

I always thought Gene Hackman should have played Branch Rickey.

Lighten up-- baseball is about having fun. The envy and vitriol expressed by some posters is hilarious. There is nothing socialist about environmentalism ( the EPA was created during the Nixon administration). Only the irrational and the terminally stupid despise the idea of sustainability (though I doubt you can spell or pronounce the word). environment. Even your Orange County birther types must get THAT much. on the resources And the word is spelled "capitalist." As for Republicans "keeping the brothers down," your language indicates your own jaundiced views on African-Americans quite clearly. The Republican party was once the party of racial equality; the Republicans abandoned the cause for electoral advantage (part of Nixon's Southern strategy). Ronald Reagan began his 1980 campaign near Philadelphia, Mississippi -- the site of the murders of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. Like racists today, he used the language of states' rights to provide a "cover" for his real message.


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