Production has now begun in New Orleans on Lawrence Bender’s Al Capone biopic Fonzo, starring Tom Hardy as the infamously scarred gangster who spearheaded the public enemy craze of the 1920s.
Capone has featured in biopics before: billionaire Howard Hughes initially immortalized him in 1932’s Scarface, which was then remade in the 1980s with a Cuban twist for Brian De Palma’s cult classic starring Al Pacino and a chainsaw.
Lawrence Bender’s take on the gangster, however, intends not to lionize the killer’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre heyday or even his tax-evader stretch at Alcatraz, but rather his syphilis-induced decline as Capone slipped deeper and deeper into dementia. After 10 years in prison and his release on humanitarian grounds, the script imagines Capone haunted by his harrowing, hyper-violent past, until his ultimate death at age 48 in 1947.
Bender is no stranger to the blood-and-bullets genre. He’s widely known as Quentin Tarantino’s producer on virtually all of his non-Western films, including the breakthrough Reservoir Dogs, the Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction, the critically lauded Jackie Brown, and the fan-favourite genre-crossover saga From Dusk Till Dawn.
But Lawrence Bender has also enjoyed industry-defining success with straight drama, ranging from the Gus Van Sant-directed Good Will Hunting — which grossed $225 million on a $10 million budget, was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two of them — to former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which likewise took home an Oscar statue. With Fonzo, Bender’s production intends to stitch together elements of all of these: brutal crime, human drama and true-life storytelling.
Portraying the deteriorating crime lord will be Tom Hardy, a character actor who’s now transitioned into leading-man roles after putting his imprint on a wide range of movies like Darren Aronofsky’s sci-fi thriller Inception and Guy Richie’s flashy gangster spectacle RocknRolla. He’s since portrayed Batman nemesis Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, as well as the title character in the celebrated reboot Mad Max: Fury Road. He’ll next revisit the comic book pages as the lead in the Spider-Man villain-turned-antihero standalone pic Venom.
Starring alongside Hardy will be Academy Award nominee Matt Dillon as Capone’s closest friend, fellow mobster Johnny Torrio, who helped build the criminal empire known as The Chicago Outfit before he retired and bequeathed it to Capone, and who conceived of the national crime syndicate “Mafia” in 1929. Dillon, who made his feature film debut in the teen cult classic Over The Edge, later made his mark with notable roles in the film adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel The Outsiders and Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. He eventually became one of Hollywood’s in-demand actors after the comedy smash There’s Something About Mary and the Paul Haggis ensemble Crash, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and which earned Dillon his first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
Also starring is actress Linda Cardellini as Capone’s long-suffering wife Mae, with whom he fathered a son out of wedlock before marrying her shortly before New Year’s Eve in 1918. Despite his infidelity that led to him contracting syphilis at a brothel where he worked as a bouncer early in his crime career, Mae Capone remained fiercely protective of him, and even burned all of his private diaries and letters shortly before her death in 1986, to deny the FBI any further knowledge of her husband’s activities. Cardellini first rose to fame as the central character on the cult teen TV hit Freaks And Geeks from fan-favorite creator Judd Apatow, and later became a series regular or recurring actress on such accoladed shows as ER and Mad Men.
Rounding out the cast is Kyle MacLachlan as Karlock, Capone’s doctor during his years of sickness and decline. MacLachlan, one of the more versatile actors working in Hollywood, made his big-screen debut in the lead role of the film adaptation of the sci-fi epic Dune, then later starred in the indie classic Blue Velvet, also directed by David Lynch. He later anchored Lynch’s sprawling supernatural TV procedural Twin Peaks as nerdy FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, then earned an entirely new generation of fans in a recurring role on HBO’s rom-com series Sex And The City, as the upper-crust Dr. Trey MacDougal, one-time husband of actress Kristin Davis’s Charlotte York. (In between, MacLachlan also starred in Paul Verhoeven’s notorious flop Showgirls.)
Directing will be Josh Trank, son of documentary filmmaker and Academy Award-winner Richard Trank, and who at age 27 became the youngest director ever to open a film at number one at the U.S. box office, with Chronicle. That film grossed more than $125 million worldwide on a budget of $12 million.
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Fonzo, titled after one of the nicknames for Alfonse Capone, seeks to do similar business by cashing in on the gangster’s enduring notoriety; despite that his ruthless reign as mob boss lasted only seven years, he has persisted in the public’s imagination in projects ranging from The Untouchables, with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro as the baseball bat-swinging crime lord, to even Geraldo Rivera’s fabulously misfired syndicated TV special The Mystery Of Al Capone’s Vaults.
Fonzo is backed by Bron Studios, in association with Creative Wealth Media. It is produced by Aaron L. Gilbert for Bron, Russell Ackerman and John Schoenfelder for Addictive Pictures, and Lawrence Bender for A Band Apart, along with executive producer Jason Cloth of Creative Wealth Media. CAA and Endeavor Content will handle the film’s North American rights, while Bloom will manage international sales.