10 Directors to Watch: Peter Landesman Teams With Will Smith on ‘Concussion’

Former investigative reporter tackles hard-hitting subjects in features such as 'Concussion' and 'Parkland.'

10 Directors to Watch
Portrait: Courtesy of David Ortiz

His background as an award-winning investigative reporter was “great training” for taking on the timely and topical sports drama “Concussion,” says multi-faceted director and screenwriter Peter Landesman (he’s also an author and painter), “as pulling information out of tight-lipped sources is very similar to pulling performances out of actors.”

“Concussion” deals with the subject of brain damage suffered by pro football players and the David vs. Goliath battle that erupted between the real-life forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith) and the NFL who fought hard to suppress his research on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

“It’s about a search for the truth, for honesty, and a story that absolutely had to be told,” says Landesman. While Smith “looks nothing like (Omalu), Will the actor is a seeker and quester, and he was able to channel the doctor and his accent and very specific gestures. He can’t help but exude his usual charm and charisma, which helps make a difficult subject entertaining. Will’s a huge star, and you want people to see your movie.”

In addition to the casting coup of getting Smith — “and believe me, he was conflicted about doing this story as, like me, he’s a huge football fan,” admits Landesman — the helmer also benefited from “the protective bubble” placed around him by producer Ridley Scott.

No stranger to political themes, Landesman boldly recreated the Kennedy assassination from the vantage of several citizens immediately impacted by it — from Abraham Zapruder to the emergency room doctor — in his debut, “Parkland,” which was selected for competition at the Venice film festival in 2013. Next up is “Felt,” a thriller about Watergate whistleblower Deep Throat, based on an original screenplay: “I’ve already cast Liam Neeson and Diane Lane. It’s a very powerful, emotional story, and we’ll start shooting in March.”

Age: 50
Influences: Michael Cimino, Michael Mann
Agency: CAA
Lawyers: Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein