Exclusive : Giovanni Ribisi hanging with Hemingway in Papa


A few years back, I recall Roger Donaldson – director of such flicks as “The World’s Fastest Indian” and, I gotta say, everyone’s favourite scantily-dressed extra terrestrial film “Species” – telling me about this particular project. It was one he was very passionate about making, and understandably so – it was as far-flung from popcorn fare as one could possibly get, and would’ve served as a terrific follow-up to Donaldson’s real-life yarn “World’s Fastest Indian”. “Papa” sounded like a good one, real ambitious, and a great performance piece for the actor that’d squiggle on the dotted bit to play the lead part. But I don’t believe the financing could be raised – not even with the interest of an Oscar Winner actor. Anthony Hopkins, who had fronted Donaldson’s “World’s Fastest Indian”, had been approached to play Ernest Hemingway in “Papa”, but his commitment likely wouldn’t firm up until the money was there. Yep, that old catch-22. As such, the project went away. Until now.

Now “Papa”, which tells of the huge, daunting presence that was Nobel-prize winning author Ernest Hemwingway, is seemingly back on – with a new team.

Prolific producer Bob Yari is not only producing, he’s eyeing the director’s chair (still unconfirmed), with Giovanni Ribisi – always solid, though not given a chance to really display his talent in recent times – signing to star. No actor is set as Hemingway at this stage.

The film is written by and inspired by the encounter and friendship America’s youngest war correspondent Denne Bart Petitclerc (to be played by Ribisi) had with Hemingway. No actor is attached yet to play Hemingway, but I hear Hopkins is still a possibility (ask the producers a week after AFM).

In the ’50s, Petitclerc wrote Hemingway a fan letter, to which the novelist replied. They’d become friends, regularly mailing each other, even going on fishing trips together. Florida-based Petitclerc would also adapt one of Hemingway’s unfinished books, Islands in the Stream, into screenplay form.

The War Correspondent for such papers as The San Francisco Chronicle and The Miami Herald would use “Islands” as his stepping stone to Hollywood, ultimately writing for TV’s “Bonanza”; creating NBC’s “Then Came Bronson”, and turning the film “Le Mans” into paperback form.

Peter Bart once said of Petitclerc,”He was a master at translating, keeping the essence of Hemingway’s attitudes and ideas but framing them into lines that an actor could speak on the screen.”

Ribisi has had a good 2012. He co-starred in the most successful comedy of the year, “Ted” and also appears as part of the ensemble of “Gangster Squad”. He’s also still copping some of the positive heat from Jim Cameron’s “Avatar”, in which he played the key corporate scoundrel. “Papa” is a project to replant him back in big-league soil though.