Alan Ball has teamed with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films to produce an HBO telepic based on the new bestseller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
The non-fiction tome by science journo Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Lacks, a poor Baltimore mother of five who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31.
Doctors at Johns Hopkins removed cancerous cells from her body — without her family’s knowledge — that wound up leading to significant breakthroughs in medical research, ranging from aiding the development of the cure for polio to AIDS-related treatments. Book blends the story of the groundbreaking science enabled by Lack’s unusual resilient cells with the devastation that her death and the medical research process had on her family.
“Immortal Life” was published by Crown in Febuary. Ball, creator and exec producer of HBO’s “True Blood,” began pursuing the rights after he received a pre-publication copy last November while on a material-scouting mission in Gotham with his producing partner, Peter Macdissi.
“I fell in love with it,” Ball said. “I thought it would be a perfect movie for HBO.”
Harpo Films topper Kate Forte also began chasing the rights in January after reading the book. Once Ball and Forte realized they were going after the same property and had a similar vision for turning it into an HBO movie, it was a no-brainer to join forces.
“Once Alan came aboard, it gave Rebecca the comfort of knowing that she’d found the perfect combination of producers and the perfect home for her story,” Forte said.
Now that HBO’s deal to option the book is closed, the partners are about to begin recruiting a screenwriter. Winfrey, Forte, Ball and Macdissi will exec produce for Ball’s Your Face Goes Here banner and Harpo Films.
Ball and Forte were effusive about how Skloot’s book easily lends itself to a screen adaptation. “It’s an incredibly visually exciting story,” Forte said. “The science of it all is told in an amazing way.”
Forte noted that Winfrey read the book in one sitting. “She couldn’t put it down,” she said.
Ball couldn’t say enough about how excited he is to work with Winfrey and Forte on such a significant project. “Immortal Life” is high on HBO Films’ priority list, given the auspices.
“This is going to be a journey that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives,” Ball predicted.
The book rights in the deal were repped by UTA and Writer’s House.