EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Root (Barry) and Tim Blake Nelson (Old Henry) have signed on to star alongside Oscar and Emmy winner Kathy Bates, two-time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner John Malkovich and Lewis Pullman in Thelma, an upcoming indie to be directed by two-time Emmy nominee Ken Kwapis (#BlackAFThe Office). The Exchange will be introducing the title to international buyers at the 2022 Cannes Film Market, with ICM Partners and UTA Independent Film Group handling domestic.

Thelma recounts the true story of the mother of John Kennedy Toole (Pullman), the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole died by suicide before finding a home for his masterpiece, and his mother Thelma (Bates) made it her life’s mission, through outrageous gamesmanship, to see the book published. She eventually succeeded in getting the manuscript into the hands of writer Walker Percy (Malkovich), who became the novel’s champion. It would be published in 1980, eleven years after Ken’s death, thereafter becoming a widely celebrated cult classic.

Root will play Thelma’s husband John Dewey Toole, with Nelson portraying her brother, Arthur Ducoing. Black List screenwriter Andrew Farotte wrote the original screenplay. Steven P. Wegner (Blade Runner 2049The Blind Side) and Filmula’s Johnny Lin (American MadeBernie) are serving as the film’s producers.

“Stephen Root and Tim Blake Nelson are two of the most masterful and imaginative actors working today,” Kwapis told Deadline, “and their addition to our ensemble makes this a real confederacy of brilliance.”

“THELMA is a perfect project to bring to a market like Cannes — an incredibly well written script with a top notch cast and the vision of an exceptional and proven director,” added Nat McCormick, who serves as EVP of Sales and Distribution at The Exchange. “This screams high quality film with worldwide commercial potential.”

After nearly four decades of work in film, TV and theatre, Root received his first Emmy nomination in 2019 for his scene-stealing role as Monroe Fuches, the handler to Bill Hader’s titular hitman turned aspiring actor, in the hit HBO comedy Barry. The actor recently appeared on The Book of Boba Fett and has also featured in series including SuccessionBlindspottingPerry MasonThe Midnight GospelThe Man in the High CastleBrooklyn Nine-NineJustifiedBoardwalk EmpireKing of the HillPushing Daisies and The West Wing, among many others. He has also recently been seen in such films as The Tragedy of Macbeth, QueenpinsFour Good DaysUncle Frank and Bombshell, having notably starred earlier in his career in Office Space and Dodgeball.

Tim Blake Nelson is a decorated actor, playwright and filmmaker who recently drew some of the best reviews of his career with his turn in Ponciroli’s Shout! Factory Western, Old Henry, also appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley and the STX sports drama National Champions. He’ll also soon be seen (or heard) in Del Toro’s stop-motion animated feature Pinocchio and his upcoming Netflix anthology series, Cabinet of Curiosities, Netflix’s animated series Lost Ollie, his son Henry Nelson’s feature directorial debut Asleep in My Palm, Renny Harlin’s action-thriller The Bricklayer and Dexter Fletcher’s Ghosted.

The Exchange’s 2022 Cannes lineup also includes The Undertaker’s Children, starring Ann Dowd; Hard Matter, starring Harvey Keitel, Tyrese Gibson and Frank Grillo; Laroy, starring Steve Zahn, Jared Harris and John Magaro; Meet Cute, starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson; The Independent, starring John Cena, Brian Cox and Jodie Turner-Smith; Monica, starring Trace Lysette; Liev Schreiber’s Across the River and Into the Trees; Tyrese Gibson and Vivica A. Fox’s Bosco; and Zahn’s Halfway to Nowhere.

Root is represented by Gersh and Brillstein Entertainment Partners; Nelson by UTA, Gateway Management Company and Bloom Hergott Diemer.

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