Tuesday, October 23, 2007



In American Gangster, two of Hollywood’s finest, Academy Award® winners Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator) lead a spectacular cast of accomplished and rising stars—including veteran actress Ruby Dee, the versatile Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jerry Maguire Oscar®-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., Josh Brolin, Armand Assante, rappers RZA, Common and T.I.—in a blistering tale of a true American entrepreneur.

Universal Pictures will release American Gangster nationwide on November 2nd.

American Gangster also brings together an outstanding team of Oscar® caliber filmmakers; producer Brian Grazer, director/producer Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian for a cinematic event that tells the true juggernaut success story of Frank Lucas (Washington), a cult superstar from the streets of 1970s Harlem, who rose to the heights of power by becoming the most ruthless figure in his business. Lucas was taken down by Richie Roberts (Crowe), an outcast cop driven to bring justice to the streets.

Filmed on location in New York and Thailand, American Gangster spans the years during the height of the Vietnam War, 1968-1974. Lucas and Roberts’ efforts in the post-Boomer society—separately and, eventually, together—would mark the beginning of the end of an era of complicit lawlessness that claimed thousands of lives. And in one corrupt city during one turbulent time, two men living on different sides of the American Dream had no idea they would move from mortal enemies to reluctant allies on the same side of the law.

The legend of heroin smuggler/family man/death dealer/civic leader Frank Lucas was first chronicled seven years ago in a New York Magazine article by journalist Mark Jacobson. In 2000, executive producer Nicholas Pileggi—who co-wrote the screenplays for Goodfellas and Casino with Martin Scorsese—introduced Jacobson to Lucas, thus beginning a journey in which Lucas recounted his outrageous rise and fall to the journalist. From watching his cousin murdered by the KKK in La Grange, North Carolina, to earning mind-boggling figures in drug sales to facing a lifetime in prison, Lucas had one stunner of a true tale.

Jacobson’s subsequent article, “The Return of Superfly,” unfolded the complex story of a desperately poor sharecropper who moved to Harlem and slowly bypassed the usual suspects of its burgeoning heroin scene to rule a New York City empire. Through selling a purer product at a cheaper price to thousands of addicts in the Vietnam-era streets, Lucas amassed a fortune calculated in the tens of millions—and the eventual attention of the law. Had he not been pushing an illegal, deadly substance new to this country, Lucas would have assuredly been celebrated as one of the keenest businessmen of the decade, if not the century, for his family-run enterprise.

Growing up penniless in a small Southern town, Lucas arrived in New York in 1946 as a self-described “different sonofabitch.” For two decades, he worked side-by-side with Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (the inspiration for the 1997 film Hoodlum, starring Laurence Fishburne), serving as the kingpin’s right-hand man until Johnson’s death in 1968—tutored in the ways of gangsters like Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. And upon Johnson’s death, Lucas seized the reins. He changed the name of the game to the hot new import heroin and immediately put his stamp on the city—with a gun to the head of anyone who dared challenge him.

Fascinated by Jacobson’s article, Academy Award®-winning producer Brian Grazer optioned the project for Imagine Entertainment and met with Pileggi and Lucas to discuss the gangster’s exploits. Grazer was fascinated by the cautionary tale of a man with “the dream of corporate America who found a way to make a deal with individuals in Southeast Asia that could lead him to the highest grade of heroin.” He continues, “After he had this heroin, he would make a deal with U.S. military officers to import it in body bags of U.S. soldiers traveling from Vietnam back into America [the so-called Cadaver Connection]. I thought that was a remarkable, inescapable and interesting idea.” The producer would take this option and turn to veteran screenwriter Steven Zaillian to pen a script based on Lucas’ life.

Oscar® winner Zaillian was equally fascinated with the unlikely relationship between this multimillionaire thug/entrepreneur and this complicated cop-turned-prosecutor. He was certain to weave a shattering parable that didn’t just dramatize Lucas’ rise and fall but told of the juxtaposed path of his chief tracker and nemesis.

Roberts, who spent the late 1960s to early ’70s as an Essex County, New York, detective, was the man ultimately responsible for bringing down the folk hero. Grazer and Zaillian thought that what made this story especially compelling was not just Lucas—who lived by a strict code of family and community as he pushed poison into thousands of lives in the very community in which he lived—but also Roberts, who found his own destiny interwoven with that of the drug kingpin.

Washington, initially resistant to portray a man whose complex rise to power meant the death of so many, was captivated by the script and came aboard for the lead role. He was intrigued by the intricate story of Lucas’ life and believed the businessman who had hurt so many was, in fact, trying to redeem himself through years of penance.

To prepare for the role, Washington says he, “got in a room with Frank, turned on the recorder and talked with him. I didn’t try to imitate him, necessarily, but Frank’s such a charmer; that’s key to his character. I played Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and did the same thing with him—just hung out with him, got him alone and got the truth—or, hopefully, got some version of it. But with Frank, I said, ‘Don’t tell me anything I don’t need to know. I don’t want to have to testify.’”

In his research, the New York native learned more than he thought possible about the drug trade, specifically, the Country Boys’ Blue Magic. “In those days, as the story is told, heroin was sold for $50,000 to $60,000 a kilo at 50 percent, 60 percent purity,” he comments. “Frank found it 100-percent pure for $4,200 a kilo and sold it on the street at a higher purity and lower price than his competition. You can do the math. He made an incredible amount of money, at one point claiming about a million dollars a day himself.

“However, what interested me in the story was not to glorify a drug dealer, and I told Frank that when I met him.” Interestingly, Washington wrote the biblical passage Isaiah 48:22 [“There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked”] on his shooting script to remind him of Lucas’ journey and quest for redemption.

Game for a third collaboration with the director and a third with producer Grazer, Crowe signed on for the part of the complicated and hardened police officer Roberts. He was interested in how Zaillian’s story captured the time and place in which the corrupt New York City, the borough of Harlem and the slightly simpler world of Roberts’ New Jersey operated as satellites of one another in the drug-fueled era. Corruption had become so rampant within the Narcotics Special Investigations Unit (SIU) community, according to journalist Mark Jacobson in “The Return of Superfly,” that “by 1977, 52 out of 70 officers who’d worked in the unit were either in jail or under indictment.” Roberts was the exception to the norm, and Crowe admired what he learned of the man.

With the two lead talents in place, the filmmakers filled out the enormous all-star ensemble with more than 30 principal roles. Working behind the scenes to bring this remarkable story to the screen, Scott and Grazer also assembled a crew of top-notch craftspersons. They include acclaimed cinematographer Harris Savides (Zodiac, The Yards), BAFTA-winning production designer Arthur Max (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), Academy Award®-winning costume designer Janty Yates (Gladiator, De-Lovely), two-time Oscar®-winning editor Pietro Scalia (JFK, Black Hawk Down) and composer Marc Streitenfeld (A Good Year).

Executive producers of the drama include Nicholas Pileggi, Zaillian, Branko Lustig, Jim Whitaker and Michael Costigan.

Photo and article provide dby http://www.rozstevensonpr.com/


1 comment:

lisa said...

luvs the site maatspear! good to see STL representing. thanks for the shout out.