'Bates Motel's' Freddie Highmore, 'Hobbit's' James

Irish writer, director Simon Fitzmaurice has motor neuron disease

LONDON — Freddie Highmore, most recently seen in hit U.S. TV series “Bates Motel,” is attached to star in Simon Fitzmaurice’s debut feature “My Name Is Emily,” alongside James Nesbitt, who appears in “The Hobbit” trilogy as Bofur, and will soon be seen in Danny Boyle’s TV series “Babylon.”

Pic is a teenage love story and road movie. On her 16th birthday, Emily escapes from her foster home and with the help of Arden, the boy who loves her, sets out to find her father, Robert, a visionary writer locked up in a psychiatric institution.

Highmore, who starred in “Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” commented: “It’s fantastic to be on board for Simon’s latest project. It has that fresh and spontaneous angle of all great Irish scripts: characters go out and happen to things before things happen to them.”

Nesbitt added, “This film has such a heart and soul — it’s a really original piece of writing — I’m very excited to be a part of it and to be exploring a role I haven’t played before.”

Irish filmmaker Fitzmaurice won acclaim for his short films “Full Circle” and “The Sound of People,” which played at Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Shortly after that Fitzmaurice was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, which has made directing his feature an incredible challenge. He is now confined to a wheelchair, and is without the use of his limbs. He is only able to control his eye movements, so he has finished the script with an iris-recognition screen, effectively typing with his eyes.

Pic is a co-production between Irish companies Newgrange Pictures and Kennedy Films, and is set to shoot in summer 2014. All Irish finance is secured, including the Irish Film Board, BAI and TV3, with U.K. and Swedish partners on board. The producers ran a crowd-funding campaign last year, and raised over €100,000 ($135,000) toward the costs of the project, with the help of endorsements from thesps Alan Rickman, Colin Farrell and Sam Neill, and helmers Jim Sheridan and Lenny Abrahamson, among others.

Fitzmaurice said: “To make this film is the fruition of years of work and a lifetime’s love of film, and I’ve been looking very carefully for individuals that completely inhabit the parts. It’s so invigorating to have the opportunity to work with actors like Jimmy and Freddie who give everything to their craft.”

Newgrange’s pics have included Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s “Stella Days,” starring Martin Sheen, Stephen Burke’s “Happy Ever Afters,” starring Sally Hawkins, and Tom Collins’ “Kings,” starring Colm Meaney.

It also co-produced Erik Poppe’s “A Thousand Times Good Night,” starring Juliette Binoche and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Mikael Marcimain’s “Call Girl,” starring Pernilla August.

Upcoming films financing at Berlin include indie New York drama Tom Cairns’ “Seeing Chris,” and family film “The Wish List,” written by Alex Rose, and directed by Stephen Woolfenden, based on the Eoin Colfer novel of the same name.

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