British actress Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) is set for the lead role of Tess in Starz’s half-hour drama Sweetbitter, based on Stephanie Danler’s best-selling 2016 book. In addition, Emmy winning writer/director Richard Shepard (Girls) has joined as executive producer and will direct the series premiere episode.
Sweetbitter follows 22-year-old Tess (Purnell) who, shortly after arriving in New York City, lands a job at a celebrated downtown restaurant. Swiftly introduced to the world of drugs, alcohol, love, lust, dive bars, and fine dining, she learns to navigate the chaotically alluring, yet punishing life she has stumbled upon. This is the story of a young woman’s coming-of-age, set against the rich and grimy backdrop of exclusive restaurants, conjuring a nonstop and high-adrenaline world evoking the possibility, beauty, and fragility of being young and adrift.
“Ella’s portfolio of work and the array of her characters and performances in her young career are truly remarkable. We are excited for fans of the book and audiences to meet Tess,” said Starz President of Programming Carmi Zlotnik. “We are also excited by Richard’s vision to bring the book’s richly written sensory experiences from the page to the screen.”
Sweetbitter is Purnell’s first major television role. Her film work includes the role of Emma in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Other credits include Never Let Me Go, Kick-Ass 2 and Maleficent.
Shepard’s feature directing credits include The Matador starring Pierce Brosnan and Dom Hemingway starring Jude Law. On television, Shepard directed 12 episodes of HBO’s Girls, as well as the pilots for Criminal Minds, Ugly Betty, among others. Shepard also directed the Emmy nominated documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale and recently sold his short film Tokyo Project starring Elisabeth Moss.
Danler, who wrote the pilot script, and Stu Zicherman (The Americans, The Affair) executive producer along with Plan B Entertainment and Shepard. Donna Bloom will serve as producer on the six-episode freshman season. Laura Rosenthal is leading the ongoing casting search.
Starz retains all global distribution and home entertainment rights to the series.