Writer-director James Gray is assembling an impressive cast for his new movie Armageddon Time, as Oscar Isaac and Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Donald Sutherland have joined the starry ensemble, which also includes two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett.
Armageddon Time is described as a coming-of-age film based on Gray’s own childhood memories of growing up in Queens, New York in the mid-1980s. The period drama draws on Gray’s time at the Kew-Forest School, a private school where Fred Trump served on the board and Donald Trump was once a student, and the story is said to explore friendship and loyalty against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 presidential campaign. As such, the film is very different than Gray’s recent work, but it certainly sounds interesting to me, and I’m eager to find out who will be playing the school’s principal, who’s said to be a central character.
Gray will direct from his own original screenplay, and Rodrigo Teixeira (Ad Astra) will produce via his RT Features, while Lourenço Sant’Anna and Rodrigo Gutierrez will serve as executive producers. Because Armageddon Time is such an intimate, personal project for Gray, the director aims to shoot on location in New York as soon as it’s safe to do so. CAA Media Finance arranged the financing and will represent the film’s domestic distribution rights, while Wild Bunch International will handle international rights and introduce the film to buyers at the upcoming virtual Cannes market.
Deadline broke the news, and Gray told the trade that he was excited to do something in a very different vein than Ad Astra. “I’m trying to do something that is the opposite of the vast, lonely and dark void of the movie I just directed,” said Gray. “I’m anxious to make something that is very much about people, about human emotions and interactions between people, and I want it to be filled with warmth and tenderness. In some sense, yes it’s about my childhood, but [it’s] an illustration of familial love really on every level.”
Gray explained that the movie is about a troubled 12-year-old boy who moves from public school to a more refined private school that introduces him to a world of privilege. “This film is about what that meant for me and how lucky I was, and how unlucky my friend was, and about [what] that break meant for me, and what it meant for him.”
Gray said that the private school in Armageddon Time is “symbolic about what the [Kew-Forest] school represented at the time, entrenched in this white protestant ethic. I found it very foreign to me, a product of the public school system in New York City of the ‘70s. It’s about that transition and how it reflects on what the American society was and sadly still is. How we are separated along the lines of class and ethnicity. The film is really about that, my transition in school from one to the other. The implications of it are quite large. The world really became clearly divided to me, based on the haves and the have-nots. I didn’t write the script last week, but rather many months ago and it’s weird in that a lot of what we’re seeing right now is playing out of many of the themes that it was my ambition to explore in the first place.”
He continued to elaborate, per Deadline. “My parents who were not wealthy at all as a working class family, used all the levers they could, [for me] to be able to go to this school. Which simultaneously saved my life, but also awakened me to real racism and anti-Semitism. In some ways, the idea of presenting a story like this within the context of this family, told with great warmth, is sometimes your greatest Trojan Horse, to involve people emotionally that way. And story is a great weapon to be able to deliver some pretty harsh news,” said Gray.
Clearly, Gray has a lot on his mind with regards to this ambitious drama, and I can’t wait to see how he uses this all-star cast to communicate his message. Hathaway next stars in Robert Zemeckis‘ adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s The Witches, while De Niro next stars in the indie movie The Comeback Trail from writers George Gallo and Josh Posner. As for Sutherland, he’ll soon be seen in The Burnt Orange Heresy, which was just rescheduled for release on Aug. 7.
Meanwhile, Isaac will soon be seen in Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune and Paul Schrader‘s indie The Card Counter. He also just signed on to produce and star in Ben Stiller‘s Lionsgate thriller London, and you can click here to read more about that project.