Will Smith to Play Crime Boss Nicky Barnes in Netflix Movie

Do a quick replay in your mind of Will Smith’s career and you’ll note he’s fared well in the comedy, action, and drama genres. Fans are used to seeing him as an action hero, an antihero (Suicide Squad’s Deadshot), and a quiet hero who makes sacrifices to change lives. On top of that, he’ll always be the Fresh Prince.

But it’s just been announced that he’ll be playing a gangster in a film about Nicky Barnes. It’s a switch-up for Smith, who rarely plays gritty tough guys, but fans of gangster films will no doubt be interested in seeing him step into the criminal underworld.

Will Smith
Will Smith promotes ‘Gemini Man’ in Budapest | Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Smith cast as Barnes in Netflix biopic

Netflix released a media statement about the film titled The Council, which will be produced in partnership with Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment. He’ll be starring as New York crime boss Leroy Nicholas “Nicky” Barnes, a notorious drug kingpin who ran an empire during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

According to a logline for the upcoming movie, it will center on Barnes’ criminal enterprise and his ties to the Italian mob.

“The Council is the never-before told story of a crime syndicate consisting of seven African-American men who ruled Harlem in the 1970s and early 80s. No ordinary crime syndicate – the men dreamed of a self-sufficient and self-policing African American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game. The movie centers on the Shakespearean court intrigue between The Council’s king, Nicky Barnes, dubbed “Mr. Untouchable” by the New York Times, and all the different members as one unlikely rising protégé emerges.”

Who was Nicky Barnes in real life?

Street legends—for better or worse—have reputations that precede them and that of Barnes is comparable to Al Capone, Frank Lucas, John Gotti, Pablo Escobar, and Bumpy Johnson.

Barnes—whose nickname is “Mr. Untouchable”—built up a business as a heroin dealer who spread his product throughout multiple boroughs in NYC.

His rise began in the late ‘60s and rolled into the next decade, where he once made millions of dollars from selling drugs and reinvesting some of his profits into real estate, The New York Times reported. For years, law enforcement couldn’t pin any charges on him that would stick, thus earning him his moniker.

According to the outlet, it was a combination of missing evidence, witnesses, and recollection that made it difficult to catch him. Angered by his boldness, the Carter Administration launched a full legal campaign against Barnes, leading to his arrest and conviction.

While incarcerated, he learned of betrayals and missteps within his circle, the Council, and decided to flip on his associates and became a federal informant. Eventually, Barnes and his family were sent into witness protection.

Barnes expressed some regret later

Before his death in 2012—which was recently revealed—Barnes had a conversation with the famed Frank Lucas, and it turned out they were always friendly each other and even had some of the same acquaintances.

The details of the chat were printed in New York Magazine, and Barnes revealed that if he could, he would’ve made different choices. He said:

“Heroin wreaked a lot of havoc and a lot of pain in the black community. I shouldn’t have done it. Maybe I was aware, but I just didn’t give a f***. I wanted to make money, and that’s what I did. Looking back, I wouldn’t have made those decisions, but it’s a hell of a lot different and much easier to sanitize yourself after the fact.”

There hasn’t been a Barnes movie made since 2007’s Mr. Untouchable documentary, which was produced and distributed by Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures. Smith’s story will be a different take.

Smith also has Gemini Man and Bad Boys 3 coming down the pipeline, but watching him walk in Nicky Barnes’ shoes will cast him in a different light that we’re not used to seeing.