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Ethan Hawke to Star in a Nikola Tesla Biopic

The film will be a fitting collaboration between its director and star.
By  · Published on February 13th, 2018

The film will be a fitting collaboration between its director and star.

Nikola Tesla is getting the biopic treatment in the coming year with Tesla, set to star Ethan Hawke. Millenium Media will be introducing the film to buyers at the European Film Market this week in Berlin, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film is to be directed by Michael Almereyda, who previously collaborated with Hawke on a set of Shakespeare adaptations, Hamlet in 2000 and Cymbeline in 2014.

Hawke won’t be the first actor to portray Tesla. David Bowie stepped into the role for Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and more recently Tesla was portrayed by Nicholas Hoult in The Current War, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but has yet to receive a wide release. In those films, Tesla figures as a supporting character. This new biopic will focus on him as the main character and will chronicle his life and times, material that ought to give the film a lot to work with.

The Serbian-American inventor, physicist, and electrical and mechanical engineer is best known for his contributions to the design of the alternating current electricity supply system. Tesla worked with both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse and was embroiled in feuds between them, including the war of the currents, a debate over the safety of their competing electric power transmission systems. He also famously feuded with Edison himself.

Tesla possessed a photographic memory, was able to memorize whole books, and he learned to speak eight languages. He held over 300 patents and became known as a showman — and a mad scientist — for his demonstrations of miraculous inventions. However, Tesla had sold a number of patents to Westinghouse that would have garnered him a fortune had he retained them. Instead, despite his accomplishments, Tesla spent the later years of his life with little money to his name and lived in various hotels, leaving unpaid bills behind when he left. Tesla passed away in January 1943 at the age of 86 in his room at the New Yorker Hotel.

While Tesla had somewhat faded from popular culture for many years, the last couple decades have seen a resurgence in interest in his life and work. With his vast accomplishments, downfall later in life, and his status in the public imagination as a mad scientist, there’s a great deal to be covered in a potential biopic.

This makes Hawke and Almereyda a wise choice to tackle the film. Their previous collaborations are unconventional, modern adaptations of Shakespearean classics. In particular, Hamlet displays some bold choices in the decisions made to keep the Bard’s dialogue while updating the story with modern technology and a modern setting. While the reaction was often polarizing, Almereyda’s ambition with the film is undeniable. Tesla is a complex historical figure who deserves more than a safe, paint-by-numbers, Oscar-bait biopic. With a director and actor who have proven themselves as being willing to take risks, there’s a strong chance their Tesla film will be as inventive as the man himself.

For those looking to become more familiar with Tesla, check out the recent documentary miniseries about him on the Discovery Channel., Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified. Watch the trailer below.

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Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor who hails from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.