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Barry Jenkins’ New Film Finds Lead in Newcomer Kiki Layne (EXCLUSIVE)

Kiki Layne will play the lead role of Tish in Barry Jenkins and Annapurna’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel “If Beale Street Could Talk,” sources tell Variety.

The filmmakers auditioned more than 300 women for the role and began their search in earnest earlier this summer. Layne, who auditioned in recent weeks, immediately won over Jenkins, who was blown away by her reading.

“We saw hundreds of young women and while many were artists with gifts we admired, Kiki Layne’s ability to showcase a rich interior life ultimately won the day,” Jenkins said of the casting. “I absolutely adore working with her and cannot wait to have her join us in translating Baldwin’s vision of this heroine to the screen.”

Annapurna Pictures is financing and distributing the love story, with Jenkins writing and directing. Production is expected to start in October.

The film follows Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover’s innocence while carrying their unborn child. The movie is a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families, and their lives.

“Shots Fired” star Stephan James is already set to play Tish’s finance, Fonny, in the pic.

Jenkins, who has wanted to make the film for several years, wrote the screenplay during the same summer sojourn in 2013 when he penned Oscar best picture winner “Moonlight.” Since then, Jenkins has been working with the Baldwin Estate. The movie will mark Jenkins’ first production with Annapurna and a reunion of “Moonlight’s” producing team with PASTEL and Plan B.

Jenkins had been meeting with actresses for almost two months for the pivotal part that could have the same star-making effect as “Moonlight” had on newcomer Trevante Rhodes’ career.

Layne is originally from Cincinnati and moved to Los Angeles just three months ago. She recently graduated from DePaul University.

Prior to this film, Layne’s biggest role to date was a key supporting role in the upcoming Focus features film “Captive State,” directed by Rupert Wyatt. She is repped by Mosaic, and Grossman & Jack Talent.

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