J.D. Salinger biopic on the way, based on 'Salinger' documentary

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Though reviews have been mixed, director Shane Salerno’s documentary about The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger is extremely cinematic, and imagining a feature film about the mysterious recluse, who passed away in 2010, is irresistible. It turns out you won’t have to wait long. The Weinstein Company, which distributed Salinger and today announced plans to insert new footage into the doc when it expands Sept. 20, is collaborating with Salerno on a separate narrative film that focuses on Salinger’s life between World War II and the 1951 release of The Catcher in the Rye, which made Salinger a literary sensation.

That particular period of Salinger’s life is the crucible that many scholars believe formed everything that came afterward, from his literary work to his aggressively reclusive nature. Salinger stormed the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 and witnessed brutal carnage and atrocities that culminated in the liberation of German concentration camps. Salerno’s documentary attempts to connect the dots between those traumatic experiences and the formation of Holden Caulfield, Catcher‘s teenage narrator who sneers at a world of “phonies.”

“This documentary has been an incredible journey and truly epitomizes what it means to be a passion project,” said Salerno, who will pen the screenplay for the feature. “I’m beyond excited to share more of the fascinating material we discovered in its new special edition, and look forward to continuing my relationship with Harvey and TWC in developing a narrative film about this brilliant, intriguing man.”

Salerno, who wrote Armageddon and is currently scripting one of the Avatar sequels, had always envisioned a narrative feature. In fact, he initially optioned the film rights to Paul Alexander’s 1999 biography Salinger with plans to make a Salinger biopic with Daniel Day-Lewis. “I thought Daniel Day-Lewis not only perfectly encapsulated Salinger, but when Daniel Day-Lewis is made up for events he can look strikingly like Salinger at certain angles,” Salerno recently told The Associated Press. “But I knew that … [Day-Lewis] would want to know so much, there was so much research and diligence. So I really began preparing the research in order to prepare for a meeting that I hoped would happen with Daniel Day-Lewis. Then I did a couple of interviews [about Salinger] over the phone and interviews in person, and it became clear to me that this was a documentary.”

Day-Lewis, 56, may now be too old to play the role. Salinger was still a relatively undistinguished writer when he went off to war at the age of 23 and he was only 32 when Catcher in the Rye was published. But the leading role of J.D. Salinger promises to generate Batman-level interest from those Hollywood actors who count Catcher in the Rye as one of their watershed literary experiences. Intense actors like Ben Foster and Joaquin Phoenix come to mind, and you suspect James Franco would be interested. There’s also Oscar Isaac, star of the upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jake Gyllenhaal — three actors who can evoke aspects of Salinger’s type of darkness.

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