Hot off his starring role in the popular teen romance The Fault in Our Stars opposite Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort has locked down the lead role in another highly promising, albeit drastically different, project. The young actor will portray acclaimed American pianist Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn, Jr. in the biopic Van Cliburn.
Adapted by Andrew Stern from the book by Howard Reich, Van Cliburn will take a look at the pianist’s formative years, including his stunning win at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow when he was only 23. At the time of his victory, Cliburn was barely known, and his triumph at the competition was a major embarrassment for Soviet-controlled Russia. 1923 marked the the first time the tournament had been held, and its obvious goal was to impress Soviet superiority at a time when tensions between the U.S. and Russia were extremely high. After all, Russia had just completed the Sputnik launch and was newly intent on besting the U.S. in areas outside of space travel.
When Cliburn, described as “a lanky pianist from Texas who graduated Juilliard but was taught by his neighborhood piano teacher mother,” came out of nowhere to amaze the Russian judges with his unusual style, they struggled desperately to figure out what to do, wanting to give Cliburn top honors but also fearing what would happen if they did. But when Nikita Kruschev himself came in to listen to the deliberations, it became clear that Cliburn deserved to win, and so he was eventually awarded the trophy. The competition was credited with reducing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and Cliburn went on to have a long, successful career as a pianist.
Elgort proved himself a charismatic and capable lead actor in The Fault in Our Stars, so it’s exciting to see him jumping on board what sounds like an extremely exciting project. Historical dramas are a dime a dozen, but Van Cliburn has a fascinating story at its heart, and with a strong new talent like Elgort involved, I could see the film shaping up into something very special. No director is yet attached, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this movie as development continues.