For his next role, Will Smith will play a gangster.
Smith, 51, has signed on to play New York City crime lord Nicky Barnes in Netflix’s upcoming crime drama The Council. As Indiewire reports, the Philly native will also produce the film alongside business partner James Lassiter under the Overbrook Entertainment banner.
Barnes rose to infamy in the 1970s as the leader of a New York-based crime syndicate that partnered with the Italian mafia to control much of the areas heroin dealing at the time, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Barnes’ exploits earned him the nickname of “Mr. Untouchable,” a title bestowed upon him by the New York Times. He was arrested in 1978 and later became a federal informant.
Ultimately, Barnes died of cancer in 2012 – a fact not revealed until earlier this year due to his participation in the witness protection program, the Times reported in June.
This is somewhat of a departure for Smith, who has played complex characters in the past, but rarely takes on the role of a “bad guy" — although Suicide Squad’s Deadshot is technically a bad guy, he’s a hero in the end.
According to a film synopsis, The Council tells the story of Barnes’ organization of seven African-American men that operated out of Harlem in the ‘70s while dreaming of a “self-sufficient and self-policing African American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game.” The movie, Netflix says “centers on the Shakespearean court intrigue” experienced by the group.
The Council serves as the first feature focusing primarily on Barnes, but other crime movies have included him as a character in the past. Cuba Gooding Jr., for example, played Barnes in 2007’s American Gangster, which was based on the life of fellow crime boss Frank Lucas. Before that, in 2005, Sean Combs played Barnes in 2005’s Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power. Mr. Untouchable, a documentary about Barnes, was released in 2007.
No release date for The Council has yet been announced. The Council, however, is Smith’s second movie with Netflix following the release of Bright in 2017. The service currently has a sequel for that movie, which starred Smith as a Los Angeles cop prejudiced toward orcs, in the works.
While The Council will feature a real Philadelphian playing a fictionalized version of a New Yorker, Netflix’s other upcoming, high-profile organized crime drama, The Irishman, will have a real New Yorker playing a fictionalized version of a Philadelphian.
Set for release via Netflix on Nov. 27 (and in a limited number of theaters starting Nov. 1), The Irishman stars Robert De Niro as Darby-raised mobster Frank Sheeran, who famously claimed to have killed Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran, however, once told the Daily News that he had nothing to do with Hoffa’s infamous disappearance in the 1970s, but later changed his story in the book I Heard You Paint Houses, on which The Irishman is based.
Sheeran also happens to have a connection to Barnes’ life as well. As the story goes, Barnes began working with gangster “Crazy” Joe Gallo after the two met during a stint in prison in the 1960s. Gallo was later murdered in a hit in New York City in the early 1970s, and Sheeran claimed to have been the lone gunman in the murder, though official accounts say four gunman did the crime.
Smith will next appear in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a sci-fi movie in which Smith plays a hitman, as well as a younger clone of his character thanks to the use of new CGI techniques. That film is slated for release on Oct. 11.