Rebel Wilson is directing her first feature film with musical comedy “The Deb,” a big-screen adaptation of an Australian musical set in the outback.
The film is produced by Amanda Ghost, Len Blavatnik, and Gregor Cameron via their company Unigram, which recently produced Apple TV+ movie “Tetris,” and sister outfit AI Film (“I, Tonya”). The project was launched around the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, at a private event aboard billionaire investor Blavatnik’s yacht, where cast members from the Aussie musical performed a number of songs on the vessel’s upper deck.
Blavatnik, sporting a baseball cap with branding for the movie, introduced the singers, making it clear to the intimate gathering aboard his three-floor yacht that he was an enthusiastic backer of the project and, indeed, Wilson.
Variety caught up on the boat with the “Pitch Perfect” star, who also has a role in the film. “Because I’ve been on set and have done so many musicals, you kind of pick up things like how to shoot a musical number and how to do the soundtrack, because you’re there and you’re part of it,” Wilson explained.
“I’ve always just been watching as the actress — watching, watching, watching — and then I produced a lot of things with musical numbers in them, like ‘Senior Year’ on Netflix, which had a lot of cheerleading routines,” continued Wilson. “Everyone kept saying, ‘You should direct!’ … I just started getting offered movies to direct from studios, so then I was like, ‘Oh my God, if I have to take a year out of my life and not be an actress and be a director, it has to be something that I am massively passionate about.’”
Originally premiering at Sydney’s Australian Theatre for Young People in 2022, “The Deb” theater production was written by Hannah Reilly (“Sheilas”) and includes original songs from singer-songwriter Meg Washington (“The Beach”).
The musical follows lovable farm girl and high school outcast Taylah Simpkins (Natalie Abbott), who is certain the upcoming Debutante Ball, nicknamed “the Deb,” is her one chance to redefine herself. When her cynical city cousin Maeve (Charlotte MacInnes) is exiled to Taylah’s drought-stricken town Dunburn, she thinks the ball is a “heteronormative shit-show” and immediately disrupts the status quo. In their search for the spotlight, Taylah and Maeve dig deep to find self-acceptance — and a date to the Deb.
Production is set to begin in Australia in September.
“My skill set has always been musical comedy,” said Wilson. “From my first productions as a playwright, they were all little musical comedies where I wrote the music for those ones back in the day. It’s just so my genre that I thought, out of the other movies that I was offered, this one is a thing [I’m familiar with].”
“The Deb” will be produced in partnership with Wilson’s Camp Sugar Productions (“Senior Year”) and Australian producer Bunya Productions (“The Drover’s Wife”). Danny Cohen executive produces on behalf of Access Entertainment.
The adaptation will feature a cast of rising Australian stars including Charlotte MacInnes, who played Maeve in the Aussie musical; award-nominated Natalie Abbott; and Stevie Jean. Other Australian talent in the film includes Tara Morice, Jay Laga’aia, Shane Jacobson and Wilson.
Wilson references Australian films such as “Muriel’s Wedding” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” as cultural touchpoints for the project. “I really like seeing my culture on screen,” said the actor, who was raised in Sydney. “[Those films are] very seminal to me and I really wanted to create a movie that was like the modern version of those. Those movies have such charm, they’re so colourful, and they’re very funny. And they have real heart to them.”
Amanda Ghost at Unigram said: “It is a joy to be partnering with the extraordinarily talented Rebel Wilson on The Deb. This is a project that is so intrinsic to Rebel and her Australian roots. As soon as she introduced us to the musical and talked about the film we knew this brilliant script and unforgettable musical numbers would have a whole new life in her capable hands. We cannot wait for the world to see ‘The Deb.’”