Gerard Butler at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (Joel Ryan )
This post has been corrected. Please see bottom for details.
EXCLUSIVE: When we saw Gerard Butler on the big screen in the fall, he was flying off to a world trouble spot in"Machine Gun Preacher," in which he played a real-life missionary-cum-mercenary in the Sudan.
Get ready for another fact-based period story, also set in a far-flung international hotspot, from Butler, who this time around will be involved as a producer.
Butler is gaining momentum in Hollywood for "The Septembers of Shiraz," the movie version of Dalia Sofer’s well-regarded debut novel from a few years back. The project recently signed up a director, the Brazilian Heitor Dhalia (the coming-of-age tale “Adrift,” the recent thriller “Gone”), according to a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to talk about it publicly. The film will be based on a script by Hanna Weg, who also wrote the upcoming action thriller ”The Bricklayer” for Butler. Casting is underway, with the film expected to lock down its leads in the coming weeks.
Though Butler will serve only in a producerial capacity, the film counts heavy involvement from the actor's camp. Also producing are Alan Siegel and Danielle Robinson, who work closely with Butler at his production company (Siegel first optioned the book), as well as Heidi Jo Markel, who is collaborating with Butler on his upcoming romantic dramedy “Playing the Field” and his White House thriller "Olympus Has Fallen."
Inspired by Sofer’s own experiences, “Shiraz” tells of a young Jewish girl in Iran whose life is thrown into disarray shortly after the 1979 revolution, when her wealthy jeweler father is brutally jailed. The father calls many in the shah’s inner circle associates, a fact that doesn't exactly sit well with the newly anointed Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Guards under his command.
The book garnered very strong reviews when it was released in 2007, with the Wall Street Journal calling it “extraordinary” for its depiction of the fragile bonds of family in a political hotbed, while the New York Times described it as "a remarkable debut," adding that the novel was "richly evocative [and] powerfully affecting."
It would be hard to avoid the political implications of the project, at a time when tensions between Iran and the West, particularly Israel, continue to simmer. (The movie is likely to shoot in Turkey or Israel as a stand-in for the Islamic Republic.)
Revolution-era Iran stories have been well-received -- e.g., “Persepolis” a few years ago -- while a story in modern-day Iran,"A Separation," won the country's first ever Oscar in 2012. But filmmaking in the country has become more challenging than ever as the political climate has worsened. Filmmakers no doubt hope that Butler’s involvement -- not to mention ongoing news events -- can keep the interest level high.
[For the Record, 10:30 a.m. July 3: An earlier version of this post implied that "Machine Gun Preacher" was Butler's most recent role. He has since appeared in "Coriolanus."]