Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern to Star in Edward Zwick’s ‘Trial By Fire’

“Trial By Fire” has found its stars. The Bedford Falls Company, Flashlight Films and Alex Soros announced the casting news late Tuesday in an official press release. Director Edward Zwick (“Love & Other Drugs”) has chose Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”) and Laura Dern (“Wild”) to helm the upcoming drama. O’Connell will play Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted of triple homicide who spent 12 years on death row. Dern is set to portray Elizabeth Gilbert, a housewife who forms an unlikely friendship with the man and lobbies for his freedom. The film is based on the real story of Willingham and Gilbert’s friendship, which was made famous by David Grann’s New Yorker article of the same name; Grann earned a Polk Award for his work. Zwick has been working on a film adaptation of the story since its publication, saying in the release, “I have been possessed by this deeply moving, true story of justice.”

The Oscar-winning Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”) adapted the story for the silver screen, with Zwick attached to direct and produce via his “Bedford Falls” production company, alongside Flashlight Films’ Allyn Stewart (“Sully”) and Kipp Nelson (“Sully”). Kathryn Dean (“Hell or High Water”) and Marshall Herskovitz (“Love & Other Drugs”) will executive produce. Fellow producers Stewart and Nelson were just as struck by Willingham’s story, with Stewart saying, “[Willingham’s case is] more than a provocative account of prosecutorial abuse…it’s an incredibly emotional story about how a single act of kindness can change two lives forever.”

For Soros, a civil rights activist who founded The Alexander Soros Foundation, this story is an essential narrative that must be “shouted from the rooftops.” This is the first film project Soros has financed. He remarked:

Justice Scalia, a staunch defender of the death penalty, famously said, ‘Not a single defendant in America has ever been erroneously executed. If such an event had occurred…the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.’ This is that shout.

Laura Dern in “Big Little Lies.”

O’Connell is best known for his starring role in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” as Louis Zamperini. He also appeared on tv series “Godless” and “Skins,” and won the Chopard Trophy at Cannes in 2015. Dern is a critically acclaimed actor whose career spans five decades, and has appeared in hits like “Jurassic Park,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” and most recently “Big Little Lies.” She received two Oscar nominations for her work in “Wild” and Rambling Rose,” has won four Golden Globes, and been nominated for six Emmys.

“Trial By Fire” begins principal photography Oct. 2.

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