samroEXCLUSIVE: Sam Rockwell has been set to star in The Eel, with Roberto Bentivegna directing his script that made the 2012 Black List. Deal occurs as Rockwell zips to Park City for tonight’s premiere of the Lynn Shelton-directed Laggies, in which he stars with Chloe Moretz and Keira Knightley, the latter a 28-year old who avoids her boyfriend’s marriage proposal by hanging out with high schoolers.

Sundance2014_badge__140109214059__140116020608The deal also brings Rockwell together with producers Kevin Walsh, Nax Faxon and Jim Rash, the team behind last year’s Sundance sensation The Way Way Back. The trio is forming a production company they haven’t gotten around to name yet. Faxon and Rash, who helmed The Way Way Back, is next booked to helm The Heart with Kristen Wiig, which Walsh is producing for Indian Paintbrush. They are also directing Fatrick, a 20th TV/Fox pilot from co-creators Nahnatchka Khan and Corey Nickerson.

In The Eel, Rockwell will play an escaped convict who is ensnared in a plot by a corrupt sheriff to kidnap the young heiress to an oil fortune, complicating his quest for freedom. Bentivegna won the Alfred P. Sloan screenwriting award at Columbia University, and hs’e co-writing Spirit House with Chase Palmer for FilmNation. The Eel will shoot this fall in the Southwest and Bentivegna is here in Park City to meet with financiers. Walsh acknowledged that last year’s Sundance trip will be hard to top; The Way Way Back walked away with the 2013 fest’s big deal.

samrock“Nat, Jim and I want to foster other directors and writers with this new company, and Roberto’s film gives Sam the role of a criminal on the run that reminded us of Drive and Cool Hand Luke,” Walsh told me. “The Way Way Back was also a Black List script, and that one had everyone from Alex Payne to Tom Bezucha and Shawn Levy in the mix but it took us eight years to core it down and take a grass roots approach to get it made, and that’s what we’re doing here. Last year’s festival was insane, the movie screened at 3, and by the time we got off the stage after the Q&A, I turned on my phone and had 500 e-mails and five offers, already at $4 million. My fiancé and my friends from Boston were here, and while I got them to the party, I went right to the condo with the financiers, CAA and WME, and we didn’t leave the condo until 6 in the morning. I woke up the filmmakers to tell them this film we’d made for $4.75 million had sold for $9.75 million domestic and $11.3 million with foreign. Given how long it took to get it made, it was an unforgettable night.”

CAA will reps domestic on The Eel.