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ICM Signs ‘Pariah’ Star Adepero Oduye

By | Friday January 20, 2012 @ 8:09am PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: While talent agencies comb Sundance to find and sign new talent, ICM has signed Adepero Oduye, who turned in one of 2011 Sundance’s breakout performance as the star of the Dee Rees-directed Pariah. The Cornell University grad is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead for her performance as Alike, a 17-year-old lesbian struggling with her identity in Brooklyn. But that accolade might pale compared to what happened last Sunday, when Meryl Streep gave Oduye a shout-out from the stage while accepting her Golden Globes Award for The Iron Lady. After auditioning for a role as an extra in the 2007 award-winning short film Pariah, Oduye was tapped by Rees to make her debut as the star of the feature, which was recently released in theaters by Focus Features. Oduye continues to be managed by Kathy Atkinson.

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Sundance: Focus Features Acquires ‘Pariah,’ Buys Filmmaker’s Next Project

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features has closed an acquisition deal for worldwide rights for Pariah, the Dee Rees-directed coming of age story of a 17-year old African American teen from Brooklyn trying to find her place in the world, and coming to terms with her identity as a lesbian. Besides the acquisition, Focus has also engaged Rees to write another script with an eye for her to direct. The deal was in the seven figure range.

The film, which stars Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell and Aasha Davis, created much buzz since its premiere last Thursday at the Eccles Theatre. It is a handle-with-care first film, but it showed enough promise that Rees has been courted by agents since the film’s premiere and many feel she will be an emerging artistic voice. The picture was exec produced by indie icon Spike Lee, and produced by Nekisa Cooper. John Sloss and Bart Walker at Cinetic Media and attorney Victoria Cook closed the deal with Focus’ Avy Eschenasy. At least two other suitors were also in the mix. It is the first deal at the festival for Focus, which last year acquired The Kids Are All Right, the Lisa Cholodenko-directed feature which became a breakout indie hit, grossing over $20 million domestic and nearing $30 million worldwide. The film this week received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.

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Sundance: 2011 Actors-Actresses To Watch

(Sharon Swart is assisting Deadline’s Sundance coverage)

Sundance has a reputation for putting new acting talent in the spotlight. Recent years have yielded more break-outs on the distaff side, such as Carey Mulligan (2009′s An Education and The Greatest) and Jennifer Lawrence (2010’s Winter’s Bone). Both went on to receive Oscar nominations. This year’s festival films again showcased multiple talents poised to find wider recognition. While slightly more established actors such as Felicity Jones (in Like Crazy), Juno Temple (in Little Birds) and Olsen twins’ sibling Elizabeth Olsen (in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Silent House) made a big impression this year, following are a few other names that are emerging:

Corina Calderon: She stars as a willful South Texas teen gunning to win a powerlifting championship in Sundance competition film Benavides Born. The role isn’t far from her own life experience, says the young Latina, but she did have to learn how to pump iron. She trained with high school women’s powerlifting teams outside of Austin and in San Diego, and can now bench her own weight. Festival-goers have been comparing Benavides Born to Girl Fight, which played at Sundance in 2000 and launched Michelle Rodriguez’s career. The film is Calderon’s first lead; prior to this film, Calderon only had a bit part in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and worked in short films. She trained with Ben Taylor at the Austin Playhouse. Director Amy Wendell says, “Her audition was amazing. She did something specific and determined, and I liked that. She’s passionate and goes the extra mile. She had the pressures of the shoot resting on her shoulders: she had to carry the film, and she did it. In the editing room, I was amazed that she never over-acted. She was really real. This is someone who will go on to show the world something interesting.” Calderon has an Austin-based agent and has had a few nibbles from Hollywood agents at Sundance.

Brit Marling: As a co-writer and lead actress of two films at Sundance this year – competition entry Another Earth and the Next category’s Sound of My Voice – Brit Marling is one of the most talked-about new talents emerging at the festival. With director Mike Cahill, she helped craft the story and script for the inventive sci-fi drama Another Earth. In Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice she plays a mysterious cult leader who is being investigated by a couple who try to unmask her as a fraud. “Brit possesses both an authenticity and an integrity that is highly watchable,” says Batmanglij. “When I was watching Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, the grace of Brit’s performance makes it easy to forget that she’s shaping the material on the screen as not only an actor but as a writer as well.” She made shorts with Cahill and Batmanglij at Georgetown University, where she studied Economics and Studio Art. She worked as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, but quickly realized it wasn’t for her. So she traded it in for a film career. Cahill and Marling went to Havana to co-direct documentary Boxers and Ballerinas, about young artists and athletes in Cuba. She then moved to LA and started writing screenplays to generate material for herself. Just before Sundance started, Marling signed with UTA.

Ezra Miller: He plays a rebellious son who’s just out of rehab in Sam Levinson’s directorial debut Another Happy Day, a U.S. Competition title at Sundance. Though not a complete unknown, Miller is on the verge of wider acclaim according to various talent pros at the festival. “On screen, Ezra is simply a magnetic force: A raw and present actor,” says Levinson. “He can be hard and soft, simultaneously. With the wheels visibly spinning behind his eyes, he is that actor the one that comes along once a generation. I really never knew Ezra wasn’t actually Elliot until after filming.” Miller has had a few TV gigs (in Californication and The Royal Pains), and has acted in a handful of indie films so far. His acting debut was a lead role in Antonio Campos’ Afterschool, which played at Cannes and Berlin. Miller also had roles in Raymond De Felitta’s City Island and Richard Levine’s Every Day, which both showed at the Tribeca and Deauville film festivals. This past spring Miller worked with British director Lynn Ramsey and has the title role in her drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, alongside Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly. Miller is repped by Scott Metzger at Paradigm in New York.

Adepero Oduye: This New York-based actress puts in a raw and realistic performance as a shy lesbian teen who’s struggling to come out to her parents in Dee Rees’ competition film Pariah. Oduye honed her craft in theater and TV before responding to an ad for the 2007 short film version of Pariah which played at Sundance in 2008. The feature version was workshopped at the Sundance labs before heading to the fest this year. “Adepero was perfect for the role of Alike because, as a first generation Nigerian immigrant growing up in New York City, she’s had the outsider experience and understood the struggle of trying to define her identity,” says director Rees. “Also, she exudes this beautiful quality of innocence and vulnerability that fits with the core of [the character].” Among the Cornell grad’s theater work is The Bluest Eye (Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre) and Fela! (AEA workshop). Her TV jobs have included roles on FX’s Louie and Law & Order. She studied acting with Wynn Handman, Austin Pendleton and Susan Batson. She’s currently without representation but has been approached by agents at the festival.

Alex Shaffer: In his first film role, Alex Shaffer plays surly high school wrestler Kyle Timmons in Fox Searchlight’s Win Win, which screened in Premieres at Sundance. Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) took a gamble on Shaffer, whose only acting experience had been a 6th grade production of The Pirates of Penzance. But Shaffer’s extensive wrestling experience – he became the 119-lb New Jersey-state wrestling champion just before Win Win went into production — was key to the role. “I knew that if the kid we cast had never wrestled, he Read More »

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