Phillip Noyce Pitches Bank Robber Movie ‘Peggy Jo,’ Starring Lily James, to Cannes Buyers

Phillip Noyce
Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

As part of its Cannes Market presentations, HanWay Films arranged for Phillip Noyce to tell buyers about its true-crime love story “Peggy Jo,” which he will direct, with “Baby Driver” and “Yesterday” actress Lily James starring. The film is loosely based on the true-story of the life of Texan Peggy Jo Tallas, who takes to robbing banks while posing as a man.

Noyce said that when he read the script he “just got caught up by the character, the love story, the sense of adventure, the pure escapist entertainment of the whole thing.” When he learned that Peggy Jo really existed – robbing banks in Texas for many years back in the late 80s and early 90s – that helped him develop the project.

Although James is younger than the real character, many of the details are the same, Noyce said, such as the aging infirm mother, she cares for, her relationship with her brother, and her love affair. “That said, this is first and foremost a piece of escapist entertainment,” Noyce said.

He added that while he hoped the audience would enjoy “the rollercoaster ride of this woman’s life,” the film will delve deeper because of the reality of her story. He compared Peggy Jo in this respect with other characters in his films, like Nicole Kidman in Noyce’s “Dead Calm,” the three kids in “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and Angelina Jolie in “Salt.”

Noyce said: “This is a story about the extraordinariness that is in so-called ‘ordinary persons’,” which can be observed if you “look beneath the surface.” On the surface, she lives “a mundane life,” working as a waitress, but “she dreams,” he said, and then one day “she fulfils her dream,” at huge risk to herself. Along the way, she meets another so-called ordinary person who she believes is like herself, a lover of books, fantasy and nature, with unfulfilled dreams. “And as the relationship develops, she realizes that she’s found a soulmate. It’s a beautiful love story about the specialness of so called ordinary people,” he said.

The audience will root for this character as played by James. “Lily James has just the right combination of fragility, of beauty, strength and rebelliousness,” he said, “so that we fear for her, and yet, as we saw in ‘Baby Driver’ or ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,’ we want her to break out, we want her to do something unexpected.”

He said that her costume, when she is dressed as a man, would be key to the believability of her character, given that it was initially believed that the robber was a man. As “Cowboy Bob” she will be dressed in high cowboy boots and a Stetson to give her added height.

Her adversary in the film will be FBI agent Bishop, an expert in bank robberies, who figures out that it’s actually a woman they should be looking for, because the robber never says anything, instead handing over notes to the bank tellers, never shows a weapon, and doesn’t harm anyone.

Noyce said there are two aspects to the film. “One is the great action set pieces, which will have the audience on the edge of their seats, and as we progress further and further into the film, each robbery becomes more and more daring, and more is at stake. And then there is the love story, where we will take the audience into this very tender love story between these two lost souls who have found each other,” he said.

The real Peggy Jo was inspired by the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Noyce said, and there would be “visual references” to that film and “Bonnie and Clyde” in “Peggy Jo.”