Universal Pictures will turn the life of Joe Namath into a feature film, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the Hall of Fame quarterback.
David Hollander will write the script once the writers strike is over. Mad Chance’s Andrew Lazar will produce. Jimmy Walsh, who runs Namanco Prods., exec produces.
Walsh said he and Namath OK’d the movie after a long pursuit by Lazar, a strong take by Hollander and the belief that the athletic Gyllenhaal was the right actor to play him.
While other quarterbacks racked up bigger lifetime stats, Namath became the first football player to achieve rock-star status. The pic will tell the story of how the golden-armed kid from Beaver Falls, Pa., became Broadway Joe, the New York Jets quarterback who became a ’60s cultural figure.
When Namath emerged from Bear Bryant’s football program at the U. of Alabama, the upstart American Football League was the stepchild to the powerhouse National Football League. Sonny Werblin, who’d left MCA after the Justice Dept. broke up Lew Wasserman’s company, knew the value of star power and was determined to use it when he bought the Jets. He outbid the NFL, paid Namath a record $400,000 salary and turned him loose on New York. The handsome nonconformist became a sensation, on the field, in nightclubs and on Madison Avenue as the first star to become a magnet for commercials.
After backing up his guarantee that the Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Namath put the AFL on equal footing with the NFL, paved the way to a merger and helped establish football as a TV sport. He accomplished all of this on knees so bad that draft board doctors refused to send him to Vietnam for fear that they would give out on the battlefield.
“Most of the stuff you saw in ‘Forest Gump,’ Joe lived through all of it,” said Walsh, who first met Namath on the Alabama campus and has worked with him ever since. They witnessed the struggle for civil rights in Alabama, the sexual revolution and Vietnam.
Gyllenhaal, who is coming off “Rendition” and “Zodiac,” is currently shooting the Jim Sheridan-directed “Brothers” with Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman and will follow that by teaming with Doug Liman on an untitled project at DreamWorks that revolves around a moon expedition.