EXCLUSIVE: In his first star role set since his Oscar-nominated turn as Elvis Presley, Austin Butler will star in City on Fire, an adaptation of Don Winslow’s novel from Sony 3000 Pictures. This will be Butler’s first film as producer, alongside David Heyman and Shane Salerno. The studio has made this a high priority and will be meeting with writers and filmmakers immediately.
The deal brings Butler back with Sony Pictures, where he had his first breakout turn as Tex in the Quentin Tarantino-directed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. City on Fire is the first title in a novel trilogy, so the hope is for Butler to have his first turn on the ground floor of a film franchise, after starring in the Baz Luhrmann-directed Elvis.
The HarperCollins/Morrow novel takes elements of The Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid and Greek tragic dramas and places them in a world of contemporary crime. The first installment was published in April 2022, and the second book in the trilogy, City of Dreams, will be published April 18.
The trilogy focuses on two criminal empires — one Irish, the other Italian — that control all of New England. A modern-day Helen of Troy event tears them apart and starts a brutal war. Butler will play the main character, Danny Ryan, forced to grow from a street soldier into a ruthless leader to protect his friends, his family and the home he loves. Fighting the Mafia, the local cops and the feds, Danny intends to build a dynasty or die trying. 3000 Pictures exec Drew Reed was instrumental in tracking the series, and Elizabeth Gabler and Marisa Paiva are overseeing for the studio.
Said 3000 head Gabler: “We are elated that venerable producer David Heyman, alongside Austin Butler, will join forces with Shane Salerno to make Don Winslow’s spectacular trilogy, starting with City on Fire. Don is an iconic novelist and a true master of the genre of suspenseful crime fiction and has created one of the most memorable modern-day heroes in Danny Ryan, the complex and compelling protagonist of this trilogy. It is a dream come true to envision Austin, with his uniquely brilliant and charismatic talent, bringing this character and story to cinematic life.”
Winslow particularly sparked to the prospect of Butler taking his next leading-man step through his novel. Butler has been very active in helping shape this into a potential Michael Corleone-like vehicle in that it spans decades.
“Like so many people around the world, I was amazed by Austin Butler’s Oscar-nominated performance in Elvis,” Winslow said. “I’ve had a number of conversations with Austin about this trilogy that I’ve been working on for almost 30 years of my life, and I have been deeply impressed by his commitment to playing Danny Ryan as well as his passion to also produce the three films with David and Shane and Elizabeth and Marisa.”
Butler next co-stars in Dune: Part Two, the Jeff Nichol-directed The Bikeriders and Apple TV’s miniseries Masters of Air. The latter continues the tapestry of WWII soldier tales that started with Band of Brothers and The Pacific. The limited series is exec produced by Steven Spielberg and Playtone’s Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.
Heyman produced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as well as Marriage Story, Gravity and the Harry Potter films. Upcoming he has the Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and the Paul King-directed Wonka with Timothée Chalamet, both releasing later this year by Warner Bros. Salerno most recently co-wrote with James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Josh Friedman Avatar: The Way of Water.
Through his The Story Factory banner, Salerno is enmeshed in several small- and big-screen adaptations of Winslow bestsellers. Perhaps his best is the Border Trilogy, a 50-year battle between the DEA and Mexican cartels. The trilogy has been adapted for FX to air later this year, with Winslow producing and Daniel Zelman and Salerno the EPs. Winslow has other books in development to be adapted into film and TV series with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, James Mangold, Rian Johnson, Scott Frank and Ridley Scott.
Butler is repped by WME, Anonymous Content and Sloane Offer; Winslow is repped by The Story Factory and CAA, and Heyman by Goodman Genow Schenkman.