UPDATE: As of July 22, 2021, Yasiin Bey has left Thelonious, the Thelonious Monk biopic, after being made aware that the production didn’t have the estate’s approval.

Jazz legend Thelonious Monk will have his story brought to life by Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). The musician and actor will portray Monk in an upcoming biopic from production company Jupiter Rising FilmIn an interview with Rolling Stone, Jupiter Rising heads Peter Lord Moreland and Alberto Marzan discussed their passion for the project and finding the right man to play Monk.

Seeing the World Differently

Lord Moreland first became fascinated with Thelonious Monk when he watched Straight No Chaser, the 1988 documentary about the bebop pianist and composer. He researched the musician and started on a working script to document the life of one of jazz’s most recorded musicians.

“My entire life, I have been an artist, a person, and a thinker who seems to have an alternative view of creating, hearing, and seeing the world,” he told Rolling Stone. “There’s no greater personification of that than Thelonious.”

The film will center around Monk’s “struggles for musical success, mental illness, and the spiritual love triangle between his wife, Nellie, and one of the world’s richest women, Nica Rothschild.”

Finding the Man to Play Monk

Finding the right actor to play Monk would be a challenge, as the jazz musician was as eccentric as he was talented. When Bey was brought up as a possibility during a development meeting, the producers knew they had their man.

“When his name was brought up, there was a silence that I will never forget,” Marzan said.

“We all envisioned him. This needed to be somebody that understood Thelonious’ music on an intimate level. It needed to be someone who understood the life and challenges of being a musician, a black man in this universe. Yasiin has Thelonious’ morals and focus on what matters.”

This won’t be Bey’s first time playing a music legend. He also starred as “Johnny B. Goode” singer Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records in 2008. Lord Moreland and Marzan feel confident that Bey will bring an authenticity to the role. After all, more than just Monk’s style of playing the piano was unusual. He was an individualist who went against the grain, something Bey can likely identify with given his own unconventional career.

“The long journey to reach the spiritual place, vibration, and sensibilities of Monk — that it would take for just about any other actor we could think of to portray him — is not necessary for him,” Lord Moreland said of Bey. “He’s already there. His essence is in ‘that place.’”

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