Robert Downey Jr. has teamed up with HBO and A24 to produce and star in a new series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer-winning Vietnam-era spy novel "The Sympathizer."
Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with the 2015 novel, as well as an Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, making it one of the rare espionage or crime novels to earn recognition in both mainstream literary circles and within its own genre. The author recently followed up with a 2021 sequel called "The Committed."
Part of the novel's strength is its dreamlike quality as it follows its anonymous French-Vietnamese narrator as he works as a mole for North Vietnam intelligence as a soldier in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The story covers the final days of the war and the narrator's life as an immigrant to Southern California immediately following the final U.S. evacuation from Saigon.
The producers are looking for an actor to play the lead role of the Vietnamese spy and have announced that they're open to casting an unknown, since Hollywood hasn't given Vietnamese actors many opportunities for work before now.
Downey will play multiple roles in the series, including a California politician, a CIA agent and a movie director. Readers of the novel might wonder whether the actor will be portraying different people or if perhaps all his characters exist in the narrator's mind.
As mentioned above, it's a trippy novel but one that brings a strong Vietnamese perspective to an English-language tale of the Vietnam War. Korean director Park Chan-wook, who made the original "Oldboy" movie, will oversee the series, and Nguyen announced via Twitter that he's delighted with the choice.
Nguyen was born in Ban Mê Thuột, Vietnam, in 1971 and fled South Vietnam with his family in 1975. They first lived in the refugee camp at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, before settling in San Jose, California.
"The Sympathizer," already one of the most talked-about novels of the 21st century so far, will bring a new perspective on the era to a far wider audience when it comes to television late next year or in 2023. Stand by for more news as it develops.
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