Paul Mescal, the star of A24’s Aftersun and Hulu’s Normal People who just landed the lead in Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator sequel, has been tapped to replace Blake Jenner in Richard Linklater‘s ambitious multi-decade feature adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s acclaimed musical Merrily We Roll Along, multiple sources tell Above the Line.
Ben Platt and Beanie Feldstein were cast way back in the summer of 2019 when the project first began filming. Jenner did shoot scenes for the film, though he exited the project shortly after domestic violence allegations surfaced against the actor from his ex-wife, Supergirl star Melissa Benoist.
Mescal takes over the lead role of Franklin Shepard, a talented Broadway composer who abandons his theater career in New York and all his friends in order to produce movies in Los Angeles. Like the play, the musical begins at the height of his Hollywood fame and moves backward in time, showing snapshots of the most important moments in Frank’s life that shaped the man he went on to become. Feldstein will play Frank’s best friend, theater critic Mary Flynn, while her real-life pal Platt will play Charley, Frank’s regular lyricist.
Sondheim’s musical was itself based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Back in 2019, sources indicated that the film would be shot in reverse chronological order, as the play and musical end when the characters are in their mid-20s and just embarking on their entertainment careers.
“I first saw, and fell in love with Merrily in the ’80s, and I can’t think of a better place to spend the next 20 years than in the world of a Sondheim musical,” Linklater said in a statement to the New York Times. “I don’t enter this multiyear experience lightly, but it seems the best, perhaps the only way, to do this story justice on film,” added the director, who is also producing the film alongside Jason Blum and Jonathan Marc Sherman.
Linklater’s similarly ambitious Boyhood spanned the course of 12 years and was nominated for six Oscars, with Linklater nominated for his writing, directing, and producing efforts. He also earned two additional Oscar noms for co-writing entries in the Before trilogy with Julie Delpy and Kim Krizan.
Mescal earned an Emmy nomination for his turn in Hulu’s limited series Normal People, and his performance in A24’s Aftersun also has him in contention for an Oscar nomination this month. Additionally, Mescal starred opposite Emily Watson in the A24 movie God’s Creatures, and he has wrapped Garth Davis‘ Foe, which will pair him with Saoirse Ronan.
He’s represented by CAA and the Curtis Brown Group.