EXCLUSIVE: Westworld Emmy winning actress Thandie Newton will headline Julian Higgins’ feature directorial debut God’s Country for Cold Iron Pictures and The Film Arcade, Deadline has learned.
The neo-Western thriller is set in the bleak winter landscape of the Mountain West. Newton plays a college professor living on her own at the edge of the national forest. One day she confronts two hunters trespassing on her land, triggering a battle of wills with dangerous ramifications.
Screenwriter Shaye Ogbonna adapted the script with Higgins from James Lee Burke’s short story Winter Light. Burke is The New York Times bestselling author of the Dave Robicheaux detective series and numerous other novels. He has received two Edgar Awards and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Burke’s 40th novel will be released this year.
Cold Iron’s CEO Miranda Bailey and Amanda Marshall are producing the film, along with Halee Bernard and Higgins. Anthony Ciardelli and The Film Arcade’s Jason Beck will serve as EPs. ICM Partners is representing the film, which starts principal photography this week in Montana.
“Julian and Shaye’s radical new take on James Lee Burke’s story is a nuanced response to the times in which we live,” said Bailey. “We are thrilled to be working on this powerful film that puts Thandie’s remarkable acting talent front and center.”
Higgins is a Los Angeles-based writer-director whose short films have screened at over a hundred festivals around the globe and won dozens of prizes, including the gold medal Student Academy Award and two Student Emmy awards for his AFI thesis film, Thief. His most recent short, Winter Light, was a top-ten finalist for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Higgins made his television directorial debut with one of the final episodes of House, and has since executive produced and directed Seasons 2 & 3 of the anthology drama series Guidance, streaming on Hulu. Higgins is repped by Good Fear Content.
Newton is going into her third season of HBO’s Westworld on March 15. She won a Primetime Emmy last year for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her turn as Maeve Millay, the robotic seductress who goes hellbent on revenge in season 2. She was also nominated for back to back Golden Globe Awards as well as two SAG Awards. Newton also starred in the Oscar Best Picture Crash for which she received the BAFTA for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. She starred as the title character in Jonathan Demme’s Beloved, opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2, alongside Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, as well as Chiwetel Ejiofor in Half a Yellow Sun. Other film credits include Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds and For Colored Girls opposite Whoopi Goldberg, the Merchant-Ivory picture Jefferson In Paris, and Oliver Stone’s W. Newton will next be seen starring in Lisa Joy’s Reminiscene opposite Hugh Jackman for Warner Bros. She is represented by Untitled Entertainment, WME and Independent Talent Group.
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