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Tim Blake Nelson and Vera Farmiga are set to play the founders of the religious cult Heaven’s Gate — which participated in a mass suicide in 1997 — in true-crime biopic The Leader, The Hollywood Reporter has learned
Being introduced to buyers at the European Film Market by The Exchange and with Cinemand and Balcony 9 Productions producing, the film sees Farmiga play cult leader Bonnie Nettles, aka “Ti,” with Nelson as the group’s infamous frontman, Marshall Applewhite, aka “Do.”
The Leader tells the true story of the 39 members of Heaven’s Gate — an American UFO cult that believed its followers could transform into immortal extraterrestrials and would ascend to heaven — and how they would commit the largest mass suicide to ever take place on American soil. The film tracks Nettles and Applewhite as they develop the religion, build a devout following and face unforeseen conflict when the spaceship they believed would transport their resurrected selves fails to arrive.
Michael Gallagher (Funny Story) directs from his own original screenplay.
“Vera Farmiga and Tim Blake Nelson are two of the finest actors working today. We are honored to partner with them to tell this incredible story,” said writer-director Gallagher. “The Leader will depict the Heaven’s Gate tragedy through the lens of hope and heartbreak. It is a film about the dangers of self-deception, the thirst for human connection and the mystery of faith.”
The project is produced by Jana Winternitz, Michael Wormser and Gallagher of Cinemand, as well as Joel David Moore and Max Osswald from Balcony 9 Productions. Rishi Bajaj and Daniel Taborga from Balcony 9 Productions will executive produce along with Cassian Elwes, Evan Silverberg and Entertainment 360. Full film casting is currently underway.
“The Heaven’s Gate mass suicide is one of the most fascinating and unprecedented true crime events in American History,” said Nat McCormick, president of worldwide sales and distribution at The Exchange. “It’s hard to comprehend how it all coalesced. And that’s exactly what this movie is about. Tim and Vera portraying the messiahs of Heaven’s Gate is going to be something to behold.”
Nelson, whose most recent projects include upcoming titles Dune: Part Two, Captain America: New World Order and The Exchange’s Thelma alongside Kathy Bates, is represented by UTA, Gateway Management and Brecheen Feldman Breimer Silver Thompson. Farmiga, recently seen in Apple’s Five Days at Memorial, The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, is represented by CAA, Authentic Talent and Literary Management and Peikoff Mahan Law Office. Gallagher is represented by Entertainment 360 and attorney David Matlof.
The Exchange’s EFM lineup also includes Octavia Spencer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lucy Liu’s Nobody Nothing Nowhere; Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Guy Pearce’s Neponset Circle; Olivia Munn’s Replay; Kathy Bates’ Thelma; Zoe Saldana and Garrett Hedlund’s The Absence of Eden; Venice’22 competition title Monica; Steve Zahn and John Magaro’s LaRoy; as well as Tyrese Gibson and Thomas Jane’s Bosco.
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