Mere weeks after winning the Academy Award, director Ang Lee has signed on for his next act: television.
In a matter of months, the Life of Pi helmer will head to Morocco to direct the pilot for FX’s Tyrant, a drama project centered on unassuming American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation from Homeland’s Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff and Lost’s Craig Wright. Though the offer was made before the Academy Awards –at that time, something of a pipe dream for the show’s producers– Lee didn’t express interest until after the Feb. 24th awards show in which he beat out rivals Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) for the best director Oscar.
The move, Lee’s first foray into series television, is as much a commentary on the state of cable TV as it is on that of film. It’s no secret that cable is increasingly known for its rich character development and envelope-pushing plot-lines, a shift that has coincided with the major film studios’ growing reliance on superhero tent-poles over character-driven stories. In making the leap, Lee will join a growing cadre of brand-name film directors who have made the jump, including Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire), Michael Mann (Luck) and Gus Van Sant (Boss).
STORY: ‘Homeland’ Producers Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff Sell Middle East Drama to FX
Lee brings with him a resume that is as diverse as it is impressive, with such credits as Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Brokeback Mountain, which earned him his first best director Oscar in 2005. His latest, Pi, has grossed more than $600 million at the worldwide box office. Lee will remain with Tyrant, which centers on unassuming American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation, as an executive producer if –or more likely, when—it is ordered to series.
"Ang Lee has demonstrated time and again an ability to present characters with such depth and specificity that they reveal the universal human condition. No one could be a more perfect film maker to bring Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, and Craig Wright’s Tyrant to indelible life," said FX Networks president John Landgraf.
Added Bert Salke, President of Fox 21, which is producing Tyrant with FX Productions: "The fact that the brilliant Ang Lee has signed on to direct his first project for television speaks to the extraordinary nature of Tyrant. Ang Lee, Gideon Raff, Craig Wright and Howard Gordon are master storytellers at the height of their powers, and the material is incredible.”
Raff, who created and single-handedly wrote every episode of Hatufim, the Israeli series that inspired Homeland, created the concept for Tyrant, which Gordon and Wright developed for U.S. TV though Gordon’s 20th Century Fox Television-based production company, Teakwood Lane. Gordon, Raff and Wright are all attached as executive producers, in association with Israel’s Keshet Broadcasting. If Tyrant is ordered to series, Wright will serve as the series’ showrunner.
Casting on Tyrant has not yet begun, though sources close to the project suggest the series will rely heavily on Middle Eastern actors. FX, which famously passed on Showtime’s Homeland, landed the spec following an intense cable bidding war. (Showtime was not among the bidders.)
Lee, a three-time Academy Award winner, is repped by CAA and Schreck Rose Dapello & Adams.
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose