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Uma Thurman to Play Notorious Anti-Gay Activist in ‘Anita’

Movie Talk

Uma Thurman to Play Notorious Anti-Gay Activist in ‘Anita’

Photo Credit: Getty Images/WireImage

From "Henry & June" and "Dangerous Liaisons" to "Kill Bill" and the upcoming "Nymphomaniac," Uma Thurman is an actress who isn’t afraid to take a risk. For her next project, Thurman will take on one of the most unusual roles of her career – she'll play the woman who was once America's most outspoken anti-gay activist.

It was announced at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday that Thurman will star in "Anita," a film biography of Anita Bryant, the once-popular singer and orange juice spokesperson who in the late 1970s took it upon herself to campaign against gay rights legislation in Florida. Bryant's militant stance would in time alienate much of her audience, and ultimately derailed her career.

"Anita" will be directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the team responsible for "Lovelace," the recent Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried, and "Howl," which starred James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg. They've also directed several documentaries on LGBT issues, including the Oscar-winning "The Times of Harvey Milk," and "Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt."

The screenplay for "Anita" was written by Chad Hodge, and has an unusual history. In 2010, Darren Star, creator of "Sex and the City," was interested in making a film about Bryant, and hired Hodge to write the script. The project with HBO fell through, but while researching the film, Hodge arranged to meet Bryant, and spent three days with her in Oklahoma. In addition to her life in politics and entertainment, "Anita" will include scenes depicting Hodge's conversations with Bryant as he tries to determine if she still opposes gay rights. Darren Star will co-produce Epstein and Friedman's film, along with Howard Rosenman, Jeffrey Schwarz, and Dennis Erdman.

Born in 1940, Bryant a singer was best known in the 1960s and '70 as the singing spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, extolling the virtues of orange juice in a long-running series of TV commercials. But in 1977, Bryant, a devout Christian, led a high-profile campaign to overturn legislation in Dade County, Florida that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. During one of her rallies against the proposal, Bryant declared, "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children." Bryant and her supporters succeeded in bringing down the ordinance, and she began campaigning against gay rights throughout the country. Bryant was also an active supporter of the Briggs Initiative, a 1979 proposal that would prevent gays or supporters of gay rights from working in California schools; the campaign is cited in the 2008 film "Milk." But Bryant's controversial views and inflammatory rhetoric led the Florida Citrus Commission to cut ties with Bryant when he contract ran out in 1979, and her career never recovered as the entertainment industry distanced itself from her views. Bryant filed for bankruptcy in 1997, and these days she focuses on her career as a spiritual leader.

As Thurman gears up for "Anita," she has another daring project in the pipeline. Thurman appears in "Nymphomaniac," a drama from always-controversial director Lars von Trier about a sex addict; the cast also includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, and Willem Dafoe. "Nymphomaniac" is scheduled to debut in the UK in December; an American release date has yet to be announced.