Richard Linklater’s feature film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is merrily rolling again, with “Aftersun” and “Normal People” star Paul Mescal stepping into the lead role of Broadway composer Franklin Shepard, replacing original star Blake Jenner.
Mescal joins Ben Platt, who plays Franklin’s creative partner and lyricist Charley, and Beanie Feldstein, playing the duo’s good friend, theater critic Mary. The story tracks the trio’s disintegrating friendship as Franklin abandons Charley and Mary to become a successful Hollywood film producer — the twist is that the story is told in reverse chronological order, starting with Mary castigating Franklin as a sell-out and ending 20 years earlier with the characters as fresh-faced hopefuls.
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Variety has confirmed that Mescal has already shot a segment for the film.
Linklater originally announced the project in 2019, with Platt, Feldstein and Jenner set for the lead roles and an ambitious plan to shoot the film over 20 years, similar to Linklater’s approach to his 2014 film “Boyhood.” Ginger Sledge, Jason Blum, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Mike Blizzard and Linklater are producing.
“I first saw, and fell in love with ‘Merrily’ in the ’80s and I can’t think of a better place to spend the next 20 years than in the world of a Sondheim musical,” Linklater said at the time. “I don’t enter this multi-year experience lightly, but it seems the best, perhaps the only way, to do this story justice on film.”
Just over a year later, Jenner admitted in an Instagram post to physically and emotionally abusing a former partner; Jenner did not name her, but in late 2019, his ex-wife, actor Melissa Benoist, posted a (since deleted) video to Instagram in which she said she is a survivor of domestic violence. Since Jenner’s post, the actor has only appeared in a single project, the straight-to-VOD thriller “Paradise City” with John Travolta and Bruce Willis.
In April 2022, Platt said that Linklater had shot “the first sequence” for “Merrily We Roll Along” (technically, the last sequence), which was also reported in 2019. But it’s unclear whether Linklater started over totally from scratch, reshot Jenner’s footage with Mescal while preserving Platt and Feldstein’s performances from 2019, or innovated some other filmmaking technique.
Mescal’s star exploded in 2020 when he appeared opposite Daisy Edgar-Jones in the Hulu limited series “Normal People,” adapted from Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel. His performance as a young father in 2022’s indie feature “Aftersun” has earned him wide acclaim and awards season buzz.
Above the Line first reported Mescal taking on Jenner’s role.
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