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Forest Whitaker to Play Louis Armstrong in Biopic

Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker is continuing his unofficial New Orleans period, with plans in the works to star in and direct his third local film in a year — a biopic focusing on jazz great Louis Armstrong.

Cameras are expected to roll next summer. The film will begin at the beginning — that is, during Armstrong's early years in New Orleans — and will tell the story of his rise from impoverishment to become the voice of American jazz and one of the most popular musicians of the 20th century.

The film will draw its title from what has become one of Armstrong's more iconic songs, "What a Wonderful World."

Whitaker only just wrapped in June on the locally shot drama "Hurricane Story," in which he plays John Ehret High School basketball coach Al Collins in a big-screen recounting of the team's post-Hurricane Katrina season. It's set for release Dec. 25.

Later this month, the actor will return to town to shoot the indie drama "My Own Love Song," to be directed by Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose") and co-starring Renee Zellweger.

The Armstrong project won't be Whitaker's first foray into the jazz world. In 1988 he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character in the biopic "Bird," about jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker.

"Armstrong left a monumental mark on our lives and our culture," Whitaker recently told Daily Variety. "He lived an amazing life and, through his art, shifted the way music was played and would be heard after him, not just here in the U.S. but all over the world."

"What a Wonderful World" is being co-produced by French film company Legendre and U.S.-based Pressman Film.

The Satchmo story will represent a return to the city for both of those outfits as well: Legendre is the company behind "My Own Love Song," and Pressman produced the just-completed Werner Herzog-directed drama "Bad Lieutenant — Port of Call New Orleans," starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.

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