As the deadly stick-up man Omar Little on The Wire and the fearsome bootlegger Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, actor Michael K. Williams has played his share of tough SOBs. Now he’s going to take on a bastard.
An Ol’ Dirty one.
EW has learned exclusively that Williams, 45, will star in an upcoming film about the legendary Wu-Tang Clan rapper and all-around troubled soul Russell Jones, a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose impressive mic skills and outrageous showmanship were eclipsed by his erratic offstage behavior, assorted arrests, and an early death.
Joaquín Baca-Asay, the cinematographer on We Own the Night, Roger Dodger and Jay-Z’s video for 99 Problems, is also joining the project, making his feature directorial debut.
The movie is based on the final years of ODB’s life — a true story that is nonetheless stranger than fiction.
Titled Dirty White Boy, the film focuses on the offbeat friendship between the Wu-Tang Clan co-founder and Jarred Weisfeld, a 22-year-old VH1 production assistant who through a lot of hustle (and the occasional lie) talked his way into becoming the rapper’s manager when Jones was serving a three-year stint in prison in the early 2000s.
Despite Weisfeld’s inexperience, and having a client whose talent was undermined by addiction and mental illness, the novice manager engineered an unlikely comeback — only to have it cut short by the star’s fatal drug overdose in 2004 at age 35.
Dirty White Boy is being produced by Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, whose Beginners won Christopher Plummer an Academy Award last month. The screenplay is by Brent Hoff, who worked at VH1 and met Weisfeld and ODB when they were working on a reality show there.
The role of Weisfeld has not yet been filled, though the part may be particularly attractive now that it includes the chance to act opposite the acclaimed Williams. (Another movie about ODB, apparently penned by his cousin Raeshawn, is also in the works, with Eddie Griffin and Tracy Morgan being considered for the lead role.)
Although Williams is older than ODB ever would be, anyone who has seen his work knows his skill at bringing complicated, charismatic, and disturbed characters to life — often with surprising tenderness. The only question is what will become of the actor’s distinctive facial scar. Should the filmmakers try to cover it up, or simply use dramatic license to make it a part of the character, even though ODB had no such mark?
And who should play the eponymous dirty white boy? One look at Weisfeld in this screengrab of him with ODB from that VH1 documentary he was working on calls to mind Shia LaBeouf, or maybe The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield (soon to be seen as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man). Jonah Hill’s recent Oscar-nominated turn in Moneyball showed off the actor’s dramatic chops and could put him in the running.
Weisfeld, now of the literary management and production company Objective Entertainment, is cooperating with the project, along with ODB’s mother, Cherry Jones. The film will be produced through Knudsen and Van Hoy’s Parts & Labor company in partnership with producer Todd Hagopian’s Ocean Size Pictures. Williams is represented by Sam Maydew and Matt Goldman at The Collective, while Baca-Asay is represented by CAA. The independent film is being financed by K5 International.
Since the film is clearly a mix of tragedy and surreal comedy, the role of Weisfeld demands someone who can balance both. So who would you put in the role, Inside Movie readers? Maybe it should be an actor who, like Weisfeld himself, emerges from out of nowhere.