HBO Films announced Monday that Academy Award nominee and "How to Get Away With Murder" star Viola Davis will portray Harriet Tubman in a new project about the famed abolitionist.
The project, which is in early development, with no timetable attached, will be based on Kate Clifford Larson's 2004 biography "Bound for the Promised Land."
The author and historian said Wednesday that she's unsure whether the project will be a miniseries or movie. Whatever form it takes, Larson said, she believes Davis will do Tubman justice.
"I think she's going to carry the weight of Harriet Tubman," she said. "She's got the strength and the character."
By taking the role, Davis has already shown extraordinary commitment to embodying Tubman and her legacy, Larson said. "Bound for the Promised Land" has been optioned before, she said, but actresses have been reluctant to portray the American icon, who escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1849 and led more than 300 slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad before serving as a Union nurse and scout in the Civil War.
"We have this image of her and there's so much mythology about her that I think it's daunting for many people to think about portraying her on film," Larson said. "I think Viola is very brave."
Filming the project will likely depend on the schedule of Davis, who not only stars as criminal law professor Annalise Keating in the hit ABC drama "Murder," but also as Amanda Waller in Warner Bros.' 2016 movie based on DC Comics' "Suicide Squad." Along with two Tony Awards and two Academy Award nominations for roles in "Doubt" in 2008 and "The Help" in 2011, Davis was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2012.
When the Harriet Tubman project does begin production, Larson said she hopes her Cayuga County home is considered as a shooting location.
"I hope Viola will go to the property and feel it and see it," Larson said. "She could get a lot out of it."
The HBO Films project coincides with the establishment of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks in Cayuga County and Maryland's Eastern Shore, as well as a campaign to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Tubman or one of three other women.
The success of "12 Years a Slave" and other factors have also diminished fears about projects related to slavery, Larson said. Indeed, WGN America has ordered production of "Underground," with stars Christopher Meloni and Jurnee Smollett-Bell and rumored musical consultant Kanye West, and NBC is preparing miniseries "Freedom Run" with producer Stevie Wonder.
Kirk Ellis, of HBO's "John Adams" miniseries, will write the Tubman project, with Doug Ellin, the creator of HBO's "Entourage," producing. Steven Spielberg's Amblin TV is also developing it with HBO.
Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, will executive-produce it alongside Amblin’s Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, Ellin, Jim Lefkowitz and Cliff Dorfman, Variety reported.