Production on film and television projects may still be on pause thanks to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped Amazon Studios from acquiring the rights for a biopic project focusing on late outlaw country legend Merle Haggard, who died on his 79th birthday back in April 2016. According to a report shared by Deadline on Tuesday, Oscar-winning actor Sam Rockwell has signed on to play Haggard, while Robin Bissell will direct and co-write film’s script alongside Merle’s widow, Theresa Haggard.
The biopic will be based on Haggard’s 1981 memoir, Sing Me Back Home, which told the story of his humble beginnings in California in the years following the Great Depression and his journey through country music beginning in the early 1960s. Haggard’s career led him to become a country-western icon after gaining national fame for his 1969 hit, “Okie From Muskogee”. The song came at the height of the Vietnam War era, although the attention frustrated Haggard as he thought the counterculture movement did not understand the true nature of war. Haggard’s 1968 single, “Mama Tried”, became a live favorite of the Grateful Dead, who covered the high-energy country tune throughout their career.
Rockwell will reportedly do all of his own singing for the film, which will pick up during the years when Haggard was an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, where he watched the first prison performance from Johnny Cash. Along with telling the story of his career beginnings through the 1960s, the film will also focus on Merle’s complicated love affair with his singing partner and future wife Bonnie Owens.
The untitled film project currently has no official release date, and it will be tough to gauge when film production will be able to resume in cities like Los Angeles where businesses are under threat of closing again due to COVID-19. Haggard was remembered by many following his death in 2016, including longtime colleagues and friends like Willie Nelson.