Jack Layton movie stars Rick Roberts, Sook-Yin Lee

Filming is underway on a movie about Jack Layton's life starring Rick Roberts as the late NDP leader and Sook-Yin Lee as his wife, NDP MP Olivia Chow.
Jack Layton and Olivia Chow leave the stage at a celebration event on May 2, 2011, when the NDP won Official Opposition status in the federal election. Layton died a few months later and now a movie is being made about his life. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Filming is underway on a movie about Jack Layton's life starring Rick Roberts as the late NDP leader and Sook-Yin Lee as his wife, NDP MP Olivia Chow..

Smilin' Jack: The Jack Layton Story is being shot in Winnipeg. The cast also includes Wendy Crewson and Erin Karpluk, who stars on CBC's Being Erica.

"It's been a pleasure looking into the life of such a multi-faceted man. I've had to learn to speak Cantonese and French, and play the guitar," Roberts is quoted as saying in a press release issued Tuesday. "Jack Layton was an incredible athlete, and I like to lie on the couch – so this in itself has been challenging. The most intriguing part has been trying to embody his passion for life, his generosity, and his resolve to follow his vision in spite of overwhelming odds."

Layton died of cancer last summer, only months after leading the NDP to its most successful election result in its history. The 2011 election saw the NDP become the Official Opposition for the first time. The film's producers say the movie will depict Layton's political career, from Toronto city council to Parliament Hill, and the love story between him and Chow.

Roberts has appeared in feature films and a number of popular TV shows including Saving Hope, The Republic of Doyle, The Murdoch Mysteries and Crash & Burn.

Lee is known as the host of CBC Radio's Definitely Not the Opera but she's also a musician, actress and filmmaker.

"I am humbled and honoured to be playing Olivia Chow, in a project that is near and dear to me. Just over a year ago my little sister Deanna was diagnosed with cancer, and I saw firsthand the kind of strength and courage it takes to live with the disease," Lee said in the press release.

"Jack and Olivia were an amazing team in life, love and politics. They cut through bureaucracy and remained accessible to people. It will be a challenge for me to embody Olivia in all her beautiful complexity. I hope to serve her well."

The film is being produced by Pier 21 Films and Eagle Vision Inc., in association with CBC.

An event will be held in Toronto at Nathan Phillips Square to mark the one-year anniversary of Layton's death on Aug. 22. The evening event will include speeches and performances. A social media campaign and website has also been launched that encourages people to write messages online to Layton, expressing how they've been inspired by his final message to Canadians about love, hope, and optimism.