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Sam Rockwell to Star in ‘The Ballad of Richard Jewell’ as Defense Attorney (EXCLUSIVE)

Sam Rockwell is in final negotiations to star in Clint Eastwood’s next drama “The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” sources tell Variety.

Eastwood is directing and producing through his Malpaso production banner. Tim Moore, Jessica Meier, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s partners Jennifer Davisson Killoran and Kevin Misher are also producing.

The film is a drama based on the real-life security guard whose world was turned upside down after law enforcement leaked to an overzealous reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Jewell was a possible suspect for the pipe-bombing at Centennial Park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

From that moment on, Jewell went from a hero, who first discovered the suspicious abandoned backpack and saved hundreds of lives, to one of the most hated men in America.

As law enforcement asserted Jewell planted the bomb himself and then “found” it to make himself a hero, the city reopened the park and attempted to calm a terrified public while the real lone wolf perpetrator remained at large. Jewell maintained his innocence throughout and was finally fully cleared by the FBI 88 days later, though his reputation was never restored and his health forever damaged. While Jewell eventually became a police officer, he died of heart failure a few years later at the age of 44.

Rockwell will play the attorney who defends Jewell after he is wrongly accused. The role of Jewell has not yet been cast.

Jonah Hill and DiCaprio had originally been attached to star (DiCaprio was originally on board to play the role Rockwell will now play), but they will no longer appear in the movie. Their involvement will be limited to producing the film. Billy Ray is writing the script, which will be based on a Marie Brenner article in Vanity Fair.

The pic was originally set up at Fox, and even after the Fox-Disney merger, the door was still open for the film to stay there especially since Disney studio chief Alan Horn was interested in working with Eastwood again after their fruitful relationship at Warners. Sources say that all parties involved, however, thought it best that the film land at Warners, which recently closed a deal for the film.

Rockwell followed up his Oscar-winning role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with another critically acclaimed role in “Vice” where he portrayed George W. Bush. The role earned him another round of strong reviews leading to another Oscar nomination.

He followed that up with the FX limited series “Fosse/Verdon,” earning him another round of strong reviews.

He is repped by Gersh and Untitled Entertainment.

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