Thea Sharrock, the 30-something theater director with an impressive résumé that includes directing Daniel Radcliffe in Equus, Danny DeVito in Sunshine Boys, and Tom Hiddleston in the BBC miniseries The Hollow Crown, has set her eyes on Hollywood, signing a deal this week with MGM to direct Jojo Moyes best-selling novel Me Before You.
The distinctly British novel — about Louisa Clark, a lower-class woman working a dead-end job in a small town who begins caring for former high-powered banker Will Traynor after he’s paralyzed in a car accident — is the kind of book you’ll read in a weekend. And it’s one with a rabid fanbase that began in its country of origin and slowly spread to the U.S. Now, it’s the book you’ll find at your book club, an unconventional love story that you want to talk about immediately after finishing.
It’s a story Sharrock understood immediately, especially Moyes’ character depictions.
“Obviously I loved the novel, and obviously the fact it’s set in Britain, these are characters I know very well,” says Sharrock, who will work off a script initially written by Moyes, with the most recent polish from Fault in Our Stars writers Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter. “Will Traynor especially. If I wasn’t at school with him, I was at university with him. I recognize these families.”
She also recognizes the class distinctions between the families, despite them both living in a small town. “The class issues and the differences between their families is absolutely crucial [to the story]. Let’s face it: We Brits do class differences like nobody else.”
Sharrock is also mindful of preserving the British specificity of the book when it comes to casting her leads. She knows it’s fraught territory whenever an American is cast as a beloved British heroine. Think Anne Hathaway in One Day or Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones. Both were derided when initially announced, yet Zellweger eventually overcame what Hathaway in One Day couldn’t.
“It’s very early days, so I can’t make any promises, but I will certainly say that we are absolutely aiming to [cast British actors] for that reason,” says Sharrock. “I don’t want anyone to have to go through that again. [Both Bridget Jones and One Day] tell us just how careful we have to be.”
MGM is confident that Sharrock is the right person for the job. The studio’s president, Jonathan Glickman, hired the director after receiving raves from both Sam Mendes, who worked with Sharrock on The Hollow Crown and another British TV show Call the Midwife, and DeVito.
“Danny gave an incredibly rousing endorsement for Thea knowing what we as a studio and a financier would need out of a filmmaker,” said Glickman. “That had a large influence on us as well.”
Casting is expected to begin shortly, with MGM eying a start date later this year.