Barnhill joins Mark Rylance, previously announced as The Big Friendly Giant, in the film, which is set for release in 2016, 100 years since Dahl’s birth in Llandaff, Wales.
“The BFG” is the story of a young orphan girl and the mysterious friendly Giant who introduces her to Giant Country. The story was published in 1982, and is available in 39 languages.
“The BFG” will be 10-year-old Barnhill’s first feature film role. She has been acting for two years and will appear soon in the BBC BAFTA award-winning children’s drama “Four O’Clock Club.”
“After a lengthy search, I feel Roald Dahl himself would have found Ruby every bit as marvelous as we do,” Spielberg said. “We have discovered a wonderful Sophie in Ruby Barnhill.”
Luke Kelly, managing director of the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and Roald Dahl’s grandson, said: “The character of Sophie is one of the most endearing young heroes in Roald Dahl’s stories. She is as brave as she is curious and has an innate sense of wonder.”
In early drafts, the character of Sophie was actually a boy called Jody. Dahl changed the character following the birth of his granddaughter. The story was also adapted as an animated TV film in 1989.
Production begins on “The BFG” early next year and the movie is set to open in the U.S. on July 1, 2016, followed by the U.K. on July 22.
DreamWorks acquired the rights to the book in 2010 after Kathleen Kennedy brought it to the company. Melissa Mathison, who last teamed with Spielberg and Kennedy on “E.T.,” has written the screenplay.
Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Sam Mercer will produce while Kennedy, John Madden and Michael Siegel are on board as executive producers. Kristie Macosko Krieger and Adam Somner are co-producers.
Disney is distributing the film in the U.S. and select international territories, while Mister Smith Entertainment is handling distribution in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. DreamWorks’ partner, Reliance, will distribute the film in India.