John Hawkes also attached to true story about paraplegic

Exclusive: Fresh off the success of “Soul Surfer,” Helen Hunt is set to star in another indie drama based on an inspirational true story, “The Surrogate.”

John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”) is attached to play Mark O’Brien, a paraplegic polio victim who lived most of his life in an iron lung, paralyzed from the neck down.

Set primarily in the late 80s, story finds the lonely O’Brien contacting a sex surrogate to take his virginity. Hunt will play the title character who goes through her own challenges as she struggles to separate her personal and professional lives, including explaining her career to her 12-year-old son.

Rhea Perlman and Moon Bloodgood (“Terminator Salvation”) are set to co-star, with the latter thesp playing Vera, O’Brien’s daily caretaker. Period pic will explore O’Brien’s manhood and depict his strong spirit through his relationships with nurses, caregivers, a hip priest, and of course, his surrogate.

The real O’Brien will appear early in the film in stock footage of his graduation ceremony at the U. of Calif., Berkeley, where he earned a degree in English before going on to work as a poet and journalist.

Veteran TV helmer Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor, is writing and directing the pic. Stephen Nemeth (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) is producing with Doug Blake.

A short docu about O’Brien’s life won an Academy Award in 1997, though “The Surrogate” will not be based on that film.

Hunt is an Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winner who recently starred opposite Liev Schreiber in Richard Levine’s indie comedy “Every Day.” Prior to that, she wrote, produced, directed and starred in the 2007’s “Then She Found Me.” Veteran TV helmer Ben Lewin is writing and directing the pic, himself a polio survivor.

While Perlman recently appeared on HBO’s “Hung,” her last significant film role came in Brad Silberling’s 2006 indie “10 Items or Less.” She’ll soon be seen alongside Michael C. Hall and Peter Fonda in the indie “East Fifth Bliss.”

Bloodgood, who last appeared in the Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Faster,” will soon be seen on TNT’s upcoming series “Fallen Skies” and in Shawn Ku’s indie drama “Beautiful Boy.” Thesp recently wrapped Josh Stolberg’s “Conception” and the Christopher Walken-Christian Slater crime drama “The Power of Few.”

Hunt is repped by CAA. UTA and Caliber Media Co. rep Bloodgood, while Perlman is repped by Innovative Artists and Wright Entertainment.

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