Molina, O'Connor, Simpson and Barnard board Gregorini drama

Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2″), Frances O’Connor (“A.I. Artificial Intelligence”), Jimmi Simpson (“Zodiac”) and rising Brit thesp Aneurin Barnard are joining Kaya Scodelario and Jessica Biel in Francesca Gregorini’s “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes.”

Scodelario (“Skins”) stars as the title character, a troubled 17-year-old girl who babysits her new neighbor Linda’s “baby,” which is actually a very life-like doll. She goes along with the delusion while befriending Linda (Biel), who happens to be the spitting image of Emanuel’s late mother.

Molina will play Emanuel’s father, while O’Connor will play her stepmother. Simpson will play one of the protag’s co-workers at a medical supply store and Barnard will play her love interest.

Matthew Brady is producing via his MRB Prods. banner along with writer-director Gregorini, while Paul Schiff, Kenny Goodman, Kevin Iwashina and Jonathan Gray will exec produce.

Production is skedded to start at the end of January in Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Gregorini spoke to Variety about the casting process and the tone of the story.

“‘Lars and the Real Girl’ is an easy comparison, but it veers away from that tonally,” said Gregorini. “I consider it a psychological drama-thriller, with comedic elements. … It deals with death, salvation and redemption, as well as the lengths we’ll go to to deny our own mortality. It’s about the secrets we tell ourselves and keep from each other, and how intricate those lies are.”

As for casting, Gregorini said her process is to “sit down and talk to the actors to get a sense of who they are. For me, the hunt is to find whose essence is closest to the character. The town has a plethora of young girls and Kaya’s essence resonated as the essence of the character I wrote. That’s how I cast Rooney Mara in [Gregorini's first film] ‘Tanner Hall.’”

Gregorini went on to admit that she didn’t initially pursue Biel for the role of Linda. “She came to me, and I was cautiously open to it, but then she blew me away with her audition,” explained the helmer. “Jessica hasn’t really been given the opportunity to do something like this, but she was a revelation. I’m excited for people to discover this side of her.”

Molina is repped by WME, Hyler Management and Lou Coulson Associatesk; O’Connor is repped by Gersh, Wishlab and Artist Rights Group; and Simpson is repped by WME and Industry Entertainment; Barnard is repped by UTA, Anonymous Content and Ken McReddie Associates.

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