EXCLUSIVE: Mia Kaplan (SMILF), Rainn Wilson (Jerry and Marge Go Large), Missi Pyle (Y: The Last Man), newcomer Jemima Yevu and Jolene Purdy (The White Lotus) have signed on to star in Empire Waist, a body-positive, coming-of-age dramedy from writer-director Claire Ayoub and Wayfarer Studios, which is currently in production in New York.
Ayoub’s first feature centers on a group of teens who overcome societal bias and celebrate self-acceptance through inclusive fashion design and friendship. Kaplan plays the lead role of Lenore, a teen deeply insecure about her weight. Hiding her passion for fashion design, Lenore tries to make herself invisible in her day-to-day life to avoid being bullied — both by her classmates and image-conscious mother (Pyle). Meanwhile her best friend Kayla (Yevu) is confident, funny, outgoing, and proud of her plus-sized body.
Wilson will play Lenore’s father, Mark, who is his daughter’s biggest cheerleader, with Purdy as Ms. Hall, a teacher who encourages the girls to step outside their comfort zones and embrace their full talents.
Ayoub was inspired to write Empire Waist after witnessing the response to her 2014 personal essay, “Notes to My Twelve Year Old Self,” developing it through the Black List Annual Feature Lab in 2019 and the Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship at Sundance 2020. Crystal Collins, Justin Baldoni and Andrew Calof are producing the film, with Steve Sarowitz, Manu Gargi and Will Phelps exec producing, and Angela Cardon serving as co-producer.
Wayfarer Studios and P&G Studios/Gillette Venus are fully financing the film and producing it in association with Ayoub’s Try Anyway Productions and Jeremy Garelick’s American High.
“EMPIRE WAIST is the film I wish I’d seen as a teen struggling with my own body image issues. The film is a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it’s also a story that doesn’t shy away from the real challenges we all face when it comes to loving ourselves,” said Ayoub. “Self-love is a journey, and this film is a way for people of all ages to feel less alone in that struggle.”
“Wayfarer Studios couldn’t be more excited to bring Claire’s incredible vision to life in making EMPIRE WAIST an anthem of love and positivity for anyone who has struggled with body image and self-acceptance,” said Wayfarer Studios co-founder Baldoni. “We need this story now more than ever.”
Kaplan most recently appeared in Ben Falcone’s Netflix superhero comedy, Thunder Force. The actress also featured in Jennifer Arnold’s 2017 comedy Fat Camp, and recurred on Showtime’s SMILF, finding guest-starring roles in FBI, The Goldbergs, Game Shakers and Fresh off the Boat.
Wilson is a three-time Emmy nominee best known for his turn as Dwight Schrute in NBC’s beloved comedy series, The Office. The actor will next be seen in Amazon Studios’ series The Power, AMC’s Dark Winds and Paramount+ film Jerry and Marge Go Large, among other projects. He’s previously appeared on the TV side in Mom, Utopia, Adventure Time and more. Additional film credits include Blackbird, The Meg, Cooties, Super, Hesher and Juno.
Pyle most recently appeared in 20th Century Television’s post-apocalyptic comic book series, Y: The Last Man. The SAG Award nominee has also appeared on the TV side in Dirty John, Impulse, Mom, Bordertown and more. She’s appeared on the big screen in Universal’s Blumhouse horror-thriller Ma, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Captain Fantastic and Gone Girl, among many other titles.
Purdy most recently played pregnant resort trainee Lani in HBO’s hit comedy series, The White Lotus, also recurring in Disney+’s Marvel series, WandaVision. The actress found her first film role in Richard Kelly’s 2001 classic Donnie Darko and has also appeared on the TV side in Firefly Lane, The Magicians, The Resident, Orange Is the New Black, Under the Dome, 10 Things I Hate About You and other series.
Kaplan is represented by A3 Artists Agency and Vanguard Management Group; Wilson by UTA; Pyle by UTA and McKeon/Myones Entertainment; Purdy by A3 Artists Agency and BMK-ENT; Ayoub by UTA.
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