Harrison Ford could be heading back to the days of fedoras and cigars.
Who would have thought that Harrison Ford would have been the hot name heading into the last month of the year? Last week we heard that Ford was a contender for a major role in “Ender’s Game,” and now comes word that he’s up for a similarly big part in “42,” the Jackie Robinson biopic. Deadline says that Ford is the choice for the role of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who broke baseball’s color barrier by signing Robinson in 1947.
It’s taken forever for a Robinson biopic to get going, but Legendary Pictures has finally put it together, with Brian Helgeland writing and directing. Rachel Robinson, the baseball player’s widow, is cooperating with the production.
Robert Redford has long been associated with the role of Rickey during the many stops and starts for the project. It’s unclear whether he was ever seriously in and then just decided he couldn’t do it, or whether Helgeland made the decision that Ford–if he accepts it–is a better choice.
Rickey was willing to break the color barrier for two reasons: he knew that after World War II, baseball needed an infusion of talent. Someone was going to get the idea to sign an African-American player and it might as well be him. He also was a very religious man who believed that discrimination was wrong, un-Christian, you might say. He also had a little bit of a messianic streak that made him believe God had put him on earth to do something special, and attacking racism in baseball was that thing.
It’s now the stuff of legend how Rickey sought a player who wasn’t just a gifted athlete, but an unimpeachable person. He wanted a married man, not one who would be seen out in clubs every night with different girls. He wanted one who had the strength of character to hold up when attacked by racists. Robinson was not the most talented player in the Negro Leagues, but he was the one who had those other qualities. If you want to read a really great account of Robinson’s entry into the major leagues–which is also partially Rickey’s story–I recommend “Baseball’s Great Experiment” by Jules Tygiel.
Ford was last seen in “Cowboys & Aliens,” but I don’t think anyone blames him for that. We’ll see if the suddenly in demand Ford takes this one or if he goes for “Ender’s Game.”
There hasn’t been any other casting. Finding the right actor for Robinson will be a real test…