Has Will Smith found his American Gangster? The two-time Oscar nominee is set to star in Netflix’s crime drama The Council, in which he’ll play notorious New York City crime boss Nicky Barnes, Collider has learned.
Concussion filmmaker Peter Landesman wrote the script, which delves into the never-before told story of a crime syndicate consisting of seven African-American men who ruled Harlem in the 1970s and early ’80s. This was no ordinary crime syndicate, as the men dreamed of a self-sufficient and self-policing African American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game. The movie centers on the Shakespearean court intrigue between The Council’s king, Nicky Barnes, dubbed “Mr. Untouchable” by the New York Times, and all the different members — as one unlikely rising protégé emerges.
Barnes, whose death was recently made known, was an American crime boss, active in New York City during the 1970s, who led an international drug trafficking ring in partnership with the Italian-American Mafia until his arrest in 1978. Barnes was sentenced to life imprisonment, eventually becoming a federal informant.
If the name rings a bell, it should, as Barnes was a chief rival of Frank Lucas, the main character in American Gangster, and as such, was played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in that film. For more on Barnes, read this New York Times piece by Sam Roberts and this New York Magazine interview with Barnes and Lucas.
Smith and his longtime collaborator James Lassiter will produce The Council for Westbrook Inc.’s Overbrook Entertainment along with Matt Jackson of Jackson Pictures and Jason Essex of Anonymous Nobodies. Landesman will executive produce alongside Joanne Lee of Jackson Pictures and David Lee of Anonymous Nobodies.
Barnes offers the kind of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” role that Smith has avoided his entire career, and frankly, it’s about damn time he gets his hands dirty. He turned down a chance to work with Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained because he was afraid of how the controversial film and its constant use of the n-word would tarnish his family-friendly image. Jamie Foxx was, ultimately, perfect for the part, but I’ve always wondered if Smith had any regrets there. I never thought I’d see the day where Will “Four Quadrant” Smith would play a drug dealer, but I’m excited about the dramatic possibilities that scenario offers, and I’m eager to see who he corrals to direct this project. Keep in mind, he just tapped Reinaldo Marcus-Green (Monsters and Men) to direct King Richard, in which he’ll play the father of Venus and Serena Williams, so Smith does seem to have his finger on the pulse of the filmmaking community.
Smith recently starred in Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake, and he’ll soon be seen in Ang Lee‘s action-thriller Gemini Man, which I’ve heard plays well in 3D. Smith also has Bad Boys for Life on the horizon, and I’ve heard he’d like to do a horror movie soon as well. And no, I’m not talking about Aladdin 2. He’s represented by CAA.