Jack Layton biopic in the works

Jack Layton's widow Olivia Chow is working with a production company on a biopic of the former NDP leader, who died of cancer last August.
NDP Leader Jack Layton and NDP MP Olivia Chow, his wife, wave as they make their way into a voting station on election day on Oct. 14, 2008 in Toronto. Chow is working closely with a production company on a biopic of the late leader, who died last August. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

A Toronto production company is working on a Jack Layton biopic, in close cooperation with his family, three months after the NDP leader died of cancer.

Pier 21 Films has an early stage development deal with CBC, contingent on the script, the Globe and Mail reported Wednesday.

The story of Layton overcoming a 2009 diagnosis of prostate cancer to rise to official opposition leader in the May 2, 2011, election, and then fall ill to another undisclosed cancer weeks later, probably begged for the movie treatment. His death triggered an outpouring of public support, with crowds waiting on Parliament Hill for his visitation, and twice filling the public space outside Toronto City Hall with chalk art messages to he and his family.

Olivia Chow, Layton's widow and an NDP MP, says she wanted to work with Pier 21 because she respects the work of producer Laszlo Barnes, its president. Chow has signed a contract to work with Barnes on the film.

It's now up to screenwriter Shelley Eriksen to bring an already very public figure to life onscreen.

Chow says she's met with Eriksen twice and is giving her a tour around Parliament Hill Nov. 21 and 22.

"I said to the writer, it's not quite the same me describing how the House of Commons works. You have to come and witness it," Chow said.

"Since she's going to be writing the script, she might as well experience it."

Eriksen will also meet with NDP principle secretary Brad Lavigne, Chow said.

"You can't write a script about Jack Layton and not interview some New Democrats, you know. This is not Jack Layton according to Olivia Chow," she said.

'Early days'

A spokesman for the CBC said the production is in pre-development, "so it really is early days."

The CBC will review the script and then decide whether to buy the biopic, Chris Ball said. CBC has committed some money for the project's pre-development, but Ball wouldn't say how much.

Chow admits it's difficult to talk about her life with Layton so soon after his death, but says she feels she has to.

"Putting it together into, I guess, 90 minutes, I hope would inspire some people to be more involved in improving or changing their communities or their cities," she said.

"So if it can have that quality, that someone after seeing the film can say, well, yeah, Jack Layton is special, but it's not that different than who I am, so I too can do what needs to be done."

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)