Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been out of the spotlight for a while, but he’s returning in a big way. The former child star has signed on to play infamous cult lead Jim Jones in White Night, a psychological thriller revolving around the Jonestown massacre. Chloë Grace Moretz will play surviving cult follower Deborah Layton.
Jones was the leader of the Peoples Temple cult, who founded a community in Guyana with promises of a life free from the world’s trials. Hundreds of people followed him there to the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, popularly known as Jonestown, which became internationally famous when, on November 18, 1978, more than nine hundred people died from cyanide poisoning.
Jones orchestrated the poisoning as an event termed “revolutionary suicide.” The poison caused death within around five minutes for children, and an estimated 20-30 minutes for adults. The event was the single greatest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until 9/11.
White Night will be based on Layton’s best-selling memoir Seductive Poison, where the survivor retells her ascension to the Peoples Temple inner circle and her struggle to tell the truth to the world once Jones’ murderous plans were revealed.
Anne Sewitsky (the Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too episode of Black Mirror) will direct the film, while William Wheeler has written the script.
FilmNation’s president of production Ashley Fox confirmed that the movie will be told from Layton’s perspective, beginning with when she was inspired by Jones’ ideals, until the disappointment of finding out the truth about the religious leader:
“When we first read Bill Wheeler’s adaptation, it was seeing this infamous story from Deborah’s point of view that unlocked it psychologically and dramatically. Entering Jim Jones’ magnetic orbit through the eyes of an idealistic, passionate young woman reminded us that anyone can fall victim to extremism, given the right circumstances.
Anne’s urgent, thrilling vision for the film will make White Night a propulsive, immersive experience for this moment, while being the definitive portrayal of this timeless story.”
Archer Gray CEO Amy Nauiokas also underlined how the film will serve as a historical investigation of how a charismatic man can convince people to perform hideous acts:
“Debbie’s incredible journey with the People’s Temple deserves an audience across generations. It should serve as warning about the power a certain type of charismatic leader can have and the very real lessons to be learned from our history.”
Gordon-Levitt ostensibly seems like an odd choice to play Jones, but he’s at his best when he plays charming guys with intense drive. That in some ways was Jones, who needed all his charm and charisma to convince people to follow him into the darkness.
Gordon-Levitt was last seen in The Trial Of The Chicago 7. He’ll next be seen playing Uber founder Travis Kalanick in limited series Super Pumped, while he also has a key role in Robert Zemeckis‘ new version of Pinocchio.
Moretz was recently seen in Tom & Jerry and sci-fi thriller Mother/Android. She’s currently filming Amazon sci-fi series The Peripheral, an adaptation of the William Gibson novel of the same name.
White Night will reportedly begin filming this spring.