While fans of HBO's The Wire will undoubtedly recognize Gbenga Akkinagbe for his role as quiet but deadly gangster Chris Partlow, the actor has slowly been building up his big screen presence. He'll be seen next year in Independence Day: Resurgence, and he's part of the promising Colin Warner biopic starring Keith Stanfield. But now he's landed what could be his breakout role in a biopic on undefeated prison boxer, George Lee Martin.
Akinagbe will star in Heart Baby! from writer/director Angel Shelton who wrote her then-husband Gavin O'Connor's award-winning film, Tumbleweeds. The biopic will tell one of boxing's great untold stories, that of George Lee Martin, a convict who was known for going undefeated in the Tennessee prison boxing system. Martin shocked everyone when he turned down an offer to box for Team USA in the 1984 Olympics, an act which would have set him free. There's much more to the story and Shelton promises to delve into the reasons why so little has been heard about it. Jackson Rathbone, Quinton Aaron, Keir O’Donnell, Justice Leak, Abe Benrubi, Michael Badalucco, and Ann Cusack co-star.
If there's any doubt this role is being seen as a star-making turn for Akkinagbe, he's been training for the last two months with the same people who helped get Will Smith in boxing shape for Ali. That performance earned Smith an Academy Award nomination (any other year he would have won!), and the same could be in the cards for Akkinagbe. He's been an under-appreciated force in practically everything he's done, and it's good to see him get a chance in the spotlight.
Filming is set to begin next month in New Orleans with a premiere date targeted for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. [Deadline]