Charles S. Dutton is Developing a 6 Hour Louis Armstrong Mini Series at HBO with Quincy Jones

     September 23, 2008

The other day I participated in roundtable interviews with a lot of the cast of “The Express,” which is Universal’s football movie on the life of Ernie Davis. While in the coming week or so I’ll have full interviews posted, I wanted to get some of the highlights up immediately.

Anyway, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love HBO. Obviously not all of their shows are home-runs, but when they make something with the care and attention it deserves – like “Band of Brothers”, “Recount”, “John Adams” – it’s some of the best stuff airing on any network or any channel.

So when Charles S. Dutton told us that he’s developing a 6 hour mini-series with Quincy Jones on the life of Louis Armstrong at HBO, needless to say I got excited. After all, Louie’s life could never be told in a 2 hour movie and this is the kind of production that’s needed to really tell his story.

But more than anything, I’m excited if this works, it could be the beginning of more mini-series that encompass more than a two hour running time. I don’t know about you…but I think two hours isn’t a lot of time to tell someone’s story, and if you’re going to make a film on someone’s life, I think a four or six hour mini-series is where it’s at. Obviously not everyone needs that kind of time, but for the people that do – say a Louis Armstrong – this is exciting stuff.

Anyway, here’s what Charles told us. And if you’d like to listen to his comments, click here. The time you need to get to is 13:30 or so.

So what have you been working on since “The Express” wrapped?

Charles S. Dutton: Oh well, I finished “Legion” and I’m in development with a bunch of stuff at HBO. I have a deal with HBO so I’m developing the Louis Armstrong mini series which John Sayles is going to write.


Charles S. Dutton: And we have a movie version of…not really the Rock series but the Rock character. It won’t be an HBO movie, it’ll be a feature release of that character but not with the family. Not with Joey and Pop but the essence of that Rock character in a film. We’ve got a couple of hour dramas over at HBO and I’m looking at a couple of things to direct.

So who’s playing Louis?

Charles S. Dutton: We don’t know yet. I may play the older Louis .

Hard role though isn’t it?

Charles S. Dutton: Well, you know, like any role is hard but you know, Louis… you’ve got to get that raspy voice.

He’s very iconic kind of.

Charles S. Dutton: Yeah.

I’m just curious, you said you were going to do it at HBO, have you already thought about is it going to be a 2-hour, is it going to be a…?

Charles S. Dutton: 6-hour.

Ah, six.

Charles S. Dutton: 6-hour. To do Louis’ life you’ve got to…you can’t do it. The problem was 15 years ago I was chasing a Louis Armstrong film and as a matter of fact my partner in this is Quincy Jones.

Oh wow.

Charles S. Dutton: And so, Quincy and I were trying to do it 15 years ago. The mistake we were making was that we were trying to do it as a 2 hour film. And Louis’ life is just so huge you just can’t…you know because the problem was well, what do we leave out, what do we keep in, and we could never really grasp the story on a 2 hour movie. So, you know it took us 15 years later to decide to do it as a big mini series.

Do you think it’ll be tough to get access to the music or have you already located it?

Charles S. Dutton: No, because a lot of Loues’ songs he didn’t write all those songs. You know, Louis didn’t write all of those songs. A lot of those songs are written by the folks that won’t be so difficult to get, but we’re going to concentrate on 15 songs and Quincy’s pretty much got the rights to all of those.

I was going to say having him as a partner might help.

Charles S. Dutton: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Will you direct it as well?

Charles S. Dutton: Yeah, I don’t know if I’m going to do all 6 hours. I’ll probably do the first 2 and not concern myself. I’ll probably do 2 or 3 hours of it but not do any scenes where my character is in. I’ll let someone else direct me, you know, so…

Will any of the Ella collaborations be part of the music?

Charles S. Dutton: At this point we probably can’t leave any Ella out, but at this point John is just working on the bible for HBO, you know, the broad stroke treatment. The hardest thing will be picking those kinds of songs that I mean…he encompassed everybody’s career in life. It’s listening to Quincy talk about it, you really get fired up to want to bring this guy’s story to…

When do you hope to start production on this?

Charles S. Dutton: Well, hopefully sometime in…I would say between writing 6 hours hopefully we’ll be off the ground late next year or early 2010.

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