Otto, Pearce, Neill booked for '9 Weeks'

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Sam Neill, Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto will star in the Australian crime drama "How to Change in 9 Weeks," distributor Icon Film Distribution said Wednesday. The film begins shooting this week in Queensland.

In an unusual move for an Australian film, director Simone North and producer Tony Cavanaugh have tapped director-producer Sidney Lumet to serve as a mentor for North in her debut feature as a writer-director.

Lumet, who has been advising North for the past year as the project has developed, was bought on board by the film's co-producer, former Universal Pictures president Thom Mount.

Mount and Cavanaugh are producing "9 Weeks," which also will shoot in Melbourne, through North and Cavanaugh's production shingle, Liberty Films International.

North and Cavanaugh have produced and directed a string of successful Australian telefilms and TV series.

The thriller is based on the true story of Rachel Barber, a 15-year-old Australian student who went missing in Melbourne in 1999 and was found to have been murdered by a former childhood friend, Caroline Reid.

Newcomers Kate Bell and Ruth Murphy have been cast as Rachel and Caroline, respectively, while Pearce and Otto will star as Rachel's parents. Neill will play Caroline's father, David Reid, and Rebecca Gibney will play her mother. Other supporting cast members include AFI award winner Justine Clarke.

Financed by the Australian Film Finance Corp., Reliant Films International and the Pacific Film and Television Commission, "9 Weeks" is scheduled for release in early 2008 in Australia.
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