Drama student set as West Memphis 3 defendant

Unknown to play Damien Echols in Atom Egoyan indie

After a nationwide search for the right actor to play Damien Echols — the West Memphis Three defendant who recently got off death row — Atom Egoyan has tapped unknown drama student James Hamrick, who is currently enrolled at Nebraska Wesleyan University, to star in Worldview Entertainment’s true crime drama “Devil’s Knot.”

Hamrick beat out dozens of experienced Hollywood thesps for the role, putting himself on tape after his drama school rival at Coastal Carolina U. saw a casting notice and encouraged him to submit because of his resemblance to Echols. With shooting scheduled to start June 25 in Georgia, filmmakers were under the gun to find their Damien; Hamrick flew to Atlanta on Wednesday morning to audition for Egoyan and won the part by day’s end.

Thesp comes from an acting family, as he’s the nephew of Tony-nominated cabaret singer Sally Mayes.

Based on journalist Mara Leveritt’s bestselling book of the same name, “Devil’s Knot” follows private detective Ron Lax (Colin Firth), who took on the West Memphis Three case pro bono. He found DNA evidence linking Terry Hobbs (Alessandro Nivola), the stepfather of one of the three murdered boys, to material that was used to bind one of the young victims — evidence that helped convince a judge to release Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Echols last year.

Worldview Entertainment is financing and producing the pic, which will be produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein and Worldview’s Christopher Woodrow, as well as Paul Harris Boardman, who co-wrote the script with Scott Derrickson. Worldview’s Molly Conners, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Maria Cestone and Hoyt David Morgan will exec produce with Derrickson and actual defendants Baldwin and Misskelley Jr. CAA is repping North American rights.

In addition to Firth and Nivola, “Devil’s Knot” also stars Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Collette Wolfe and Kris Polaha, while Kristopher Higgins will play Misskelley Jr. Amy Ryan and Dane DeHaan are also in talks to join the cast, as Variety first reported.