Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros is in talks with Benjamin Walker, who played the prexy in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, to join Chris Hemsworth and Tom Holland in In The Heart Of The Sea, the Ron Howard-directed adaptation of the Nathaniel Philbrick book about the whale attack on the Essex which became the basis for Melville’s Moby Dick. Brian Grazer is producing with Joe Roth, Paula Weinstein and William Ward, with Palak Patel exec producing. Warner Bros is making the film with Village Roadshow Pictures. Walker is in talks to play George Pollard, the arrogant privileged son of a whaling family who attempts to use his family name to gain captaincy, and who butts heads with shipmate Chase (Hemsworth), who knows the job and the sea much better. Pollard’s rep is ruined because of a mishap with another ship and he is relegated to night watchmen duty for the rest of his life.

The movie tells the fact-based tale of Nantucket whaling ship the Essex, which was stalked and ultimately destroyed by a sperm whale in 1820. Stranded thousands of miles from home, the crew struggled to survive; they were lost at sea for 90 days. Eight were rescued. The script was written by Charles Leavitt, who scripted Blood Diamond. I read the book when it was first set up in 2000, when Barry Levinson and Weinstein were partners and expected to make it together at Intermedia. It was a fine book and has the makings of a logistically complex depiction of a grueling tale of survival. It stalled but came back around later when Ed Zwick became attached to direct it at New Regency.

What it needed was a young actor who could play the hero role and Hemsworth certainly fits that bill. He plays a first mate who was supplanted as captain of the whaling ship by a better connected rival. That’s the role that Walker is in talks to play. When the ship was attacked by the sperm whale in the Pacific, he becomes the hero who leads some of them to safety. A total of 20 crewmen, the captain and first mate escaped in small whaling boats. An isolated tropical island was just 1000 miles downwind, but the captain ordered them to head the other way, out of fear of false rumors of flesh-eating savages on the island. Because they headed to South America, the boats were stranded. The survivors were ironically forced to become cannibals, casting lots in one ship to see who had to die and who had to execute him so others could eat and survive. That’s part of the tale, but another big part is the depiction of the New England whaling industry of the 1800s, when men risked their lives to chase and harpoon whales for their oil.

WME and Inspire Entertainment rep Walker, who’s starring in Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight for HBO, about the heavyweight champ’s refusal to fight in Vietnam, which led to his temporary banishment from boxing at the peak of his powers.

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