"The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks" - HBO
In 1951, an African American woman was dying of cervical cancer at age 31. Under the bright lights of an operating room, surgeons harvested cells from her tumor that would prove to be astonishingly immortal and would change the face of medicine forever. Yet she, and any recognition of her involuntary donation, would long remain unknown.
HBO Films' "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is her story, as told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey). Aided by journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne), Deborah sets out to learn about the mother she never knew and to understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Henrietta’s (Renée Elise Goldsberry) cancerous cells led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, creating a medical revolution that changed countless lives. Promising a true story of medical arrogance and triumph, race, poverty and deep friendship between the unlikeliest of people, the telepic debuts on HBO on Saturday, April 22 at 8pm (ET/PT).
Multiple Tony Award winner, DGA winner and Emmy nominee George C. Wolfe brings the book to the screen, based on an adaptation of the story.
“The book is massive,” explains Wolfe. “Massive emotionally, intellectually; it’s a science book and it’s an intimate book about families and race in America and economics and power. All these things are juggled in fascinating and interesting ways.”
Executive producer and star Oprah Winfrey became intrigued by the book before it was even published. Aware of the competitive bidding for the film rights while it was still in galley form, she called Rebecca Skloot to express her recognition of and appreciation for the ten years’ worth of determination it took for the young writer to get Henrietta Lacks’ story told.
Says Winfrey, “Had she not had the conviction to stay with the story, we still wouldn’t know about Henrietta; the world would not know about her story. Rebecca was able to put it within a context that the world could receive and understand, and now, we’ve taken it to the next level.”
Originally, Winfrey did not see herself starring in the project because she couldn’t fully relate to the character of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah. That changed when director Wolfe took a hand to the script.
For the screenplay, Wolfe decided to focus on Deborah Lacks’ determined quest to revisit her mother’s past, having lost her at age two, as well as her relationship with Rebecca Skloot, the eager young journalist who instigated her search.
Says Wolfe, “The story is about loss and identity, the power of knowing your own story and how it manifests itself inside of you. It’s about the desire to know so that you can be a more complete human being.”
“It wasn’t until I saw George’s breakdown of the script in such a way that I understood it was actually about a daughter in search of her mother,” explains Winfrey. “It’s about a daughter who is, really, in search of her mother’s love and connection in order to validate, verify and affirm for herself that she was loved. Knowing that part of the story is what allowed me to take it on.”
Several members of the Lacks family served as consultants on the film, including Henrietta Lacks’ children, Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman and David Lacks, Jr., and grandchildren, Jeri Lacks Whye, Alfred Carter, Jr. and La Tonya Carter.
The film was shot in and around Atlanta and in Baltimore, including an entrance to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the real-life Henrietta Lacks entered and touched the foot of the huge religious statue in its atrium 65 years before.
Originally published by Crown Publishing in 2010, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been translated into more than 25 foreign-language editions, has been added as an educational tool to school curriculums, and will be reissued in April in conjunction with the debut of the HBO Films drama.
HBO has released a full cast list and breakdown - actors and the characters they play, as well as a set of new images from the film.
First, the cast list:
-- Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ charismatic, complicated daughter.
-- Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot, a young journalist who, in her effort to tell the story of Henrietta Lacks and her “immortal” cells, forms a close bond with Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah. Skloot’s quest resulted in her New York Times bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
-- Renée Elise Goldsberry as Henrietta Lacks, a young Baltimore woman whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951. HeLa cells became one of the most important tools in modern medicine.
-- Rocky Carroll as Sonny Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ third child and Deborah’s older brother.
-- Courtney B. Vance as Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield, a slick southern lawyer who tries to insert himself into the Lacks’ quest for knowledge and acknowledgment.
-- Reg E. Cathey as Zakariyya, Henrietta Lacks’ youngest child and Deborah Lacks’ brother.
-- Reed Birney as Dr. George Gey, who harvested HeLa cells from Henrietta Lacks.
-- Leslie Uggams as Sadie, Henrietta Lacks’ best friend and cousin.
-- John Benjamin Hickey as Bill Watson, Rebecca Skloot’s editor.
-- Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Dr. Pattillo, a doctor and professor of gynecology from Morehouse School of Medicine, whom Rebecca Skloot must first impress in order to gain access to the Lacks family.
-- Byron Jennings as Dr. Victor McKusick, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins.
-- John Douglas Thompson, as Lawrence, Henrietta Lacks’ oldest son and Deborah’s older brother.
-- Roger Robinson as Day Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ widower and father to all their children.
-- Adriane Lenox as Barbara, Lawrence’s wife, who pulled Deborah, Sonny and Zakariyya from their Aunt Ethel and Uncle Galen’s home and finished raising them.
-- Gabriel Ebert as Dr. Christoph Lengauer, who first shows HeLa cells to the Lacks family.
-- Peter Gerety as Paul Lurz, an administrator at Crownsville Hospital.
-- John Beasley as Henrietta Lacks’ cousin, Cliff, from Clover, Va.
-- Kyanna Simone Simpson as young Deborah Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ daughter.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is a Harpo Films, Your Face Goes Here Entertainment and Cine Mosaic production.
The film will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.
Below, check out a new set of official images released by HBO today.