Sam Rockwell is in talks to star in a biopic of country singer Merle Haggard for Amazon Studios, who recently acquired the project. Robin Bissell will direct from a script he’s co-writing with Theresa Haggard, Merle’s widow. The duo will also produce the film, which will be based on Haggard’s memoir Sing Me Back Home, also the title of one of his biggest hits.
The film be set in the 1960s and will focus heavily on Merle’s complicated love affair with his singing partner Bonnie Owens, who later became his wife. Rockwell will reportedly do his own singing for the role.
Before his music career got going, Haggard had a rough childhood growing up in California, with his father dying when he was nine years old. Thus he was largely left to his own devices, which led to him acting out by skipping school, stealing cars, and more.
After escaping from more than a dozen juvenile facilities, Haggard was sent to San Quentin State Prison when he reached adult age, where he watched Johnny Cash‘s first prison performance. That became a life-changing moment for Haggard, who spent the rest of his days embarking on a music career and quest to become a better man.
He went on to have nine #1 hits to his name. He’s considered “the single most influential singer-songwriter in country music history” by the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Kris Kristofferson once called him “the greatest artist in American music history”.
That’s kind of apt, because this project sounds like the kind of film Kristofferson might have starred in back in the 70s. Thee’s shades of another biopic in that description too; Hal Ashby‘s 1976 film Bound For Glory, which revolved around folk singer Woody Guthrie.
This is all to say that this doesn’t really sound like the kind of project Amazon would be interested in. They’ve supposedly shifted to a model that focuses on big, crowd-pleasing projects. A biopic about a country singer doesn’t really fit that, although perhaps they’re relying on American country fans to flock to their streaming service to see the film.
On the other hand, music biopics have recently had huge success. Think Bohemian Rhapsody making over $900 million worldwide. Now, Haggard can’t match Freddie Mercury for fame, but perhaps there’s logic to Amazon’s decision here. At the same time, the streamer hasn’t shown any consistency with the projects they’ve put into development, so who knows?
What we do know is that Rockwell will likely put in a great performance and will probably be in line for another Oscar. He and Bissell have already worked together on the civil rights drama The Best Of Enemies. He’ll next be seen – or rather, heard – as the voice of the titular gorilla in The One And Only Ivan, which debuts on Disney+ Friday, August 14.