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This article was published 18/12/2015 (2227 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It took the better part of a decade to close the deal, but Danny Schur has finally landed his leading lady.
Schur, the local writer/composer/producer/entrepreneur whose determination to bring Strike! The Musical to the silver screen seemingly knows no bounds, told the Free Press this week that he has signed British performer Samantha Barks (Les Misérables) to play the female lead in the the $10-million production, which he says will be shot in Winnipeg in July and August.
"It was two years, almost to the day, since we began 'the dance' that is a producer-agent solicitation," Schur said of his effort to attract the 25-year-old Brit -- who portrayed the pivotal role of âponine both onstage in London's West End and onscreen in the 2012 film adaptation that also starred Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried -- to the Strike! project.
"Although Samantha expressed interest right from the beginning, someone of her stature is not easy to schedule, and I just about gave up hope when they said, 'Danny, we do want to do this; we just have to find a hole in her schedule.' It took this long, and many pieces in many different puzzles all had to be put in place."
Actually, the story of how Barks and Strike! came together is even more complicated -- and entertaining -- than Schur initially described. Having decided, after seeing Barks in the Les Miz movie, that she was the perfect choice for the role of Rebecca Almazoff, one of two young lovers at the centre of a story set against the backdrop of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, Schur attempted to contact her through her U.S.-based management but made little headway.
In the meantime, he was able to secure Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle to play the villainous role of Senator Gideon Robertson, the federal labour minister who ordered the arrest of strike leaders and approved the government decision to send the North West Mounted Police into the streets to crush the uprising in a confrontation that would become known as Bloody Saturday.
During a brief meeting in Winnipeg a couple of years ago, Doyle -- unaware that Schur had already attempted to contact Barks -- suggested the British star would be a great choice for the role of Rebecca. Doyle had met Barks during his ongoing musical collaboration with her Les Miz co-star, Crowe, and the three were scheduled for a few performances and a recording-session get-together in Australia just a few weeks after the fateful Schur-Doyle discussion in the Palm Room at the Fort Garry Hotel.
"It was actually Alan who handed his own (Strike!) script and CD right to Samantha, and that what was really got things moving," said Schur. "After that, on Samantha's command, I was able to get a hold of her British agent, and the rest is kind of history."
Reached by telephone this week in the U.K., Barks said she was immediately intrigued by Doyle's description of the project and listened to the CD of the show's music at the first possible opportunity.
"When I had a couple of hours off, I listened to this musical and just loved the music so much," she explained. "I'm so happy I was introduced to it, even if it was in such a funny way.
"I really fell in love with this character -- she's very ahead of her time, she's a suffragette, and I love her passion and her forward thinking, and how she sees the world how it could be rather than how it is. I was really moved by that."
For his part in helping Schur land his leading lady, Doyle said he's just glad to have made what could turn out to be a fortuitous introduction.
"Samantha has a unique ability to embody whatever a song asks of her," Doyle explained. "That's an incredible talent, and I think it's what separates her from other people in her field. There's never a moment's doubt about who the character is when Sam Barks is singing the song, and that's true whether she's onstage in Les Miz or you're in the pub and it's three o'clock in the morning and you've had a few pints and she's singing an old English folk song. It's a very unique and special thing to find somebody who can do that."
With Barks, Doyle and former Barenaked Ladies member Steven Page all committed to the project, however, Schur's long-in-development dream of a Strike! movie is much closer to reality than ever before.
There does remain, however, the question of solidifying the financing for the film project's $10-million budget. Schur said he's still piecing together what he calls a "non-traditional" model for funding a Canadian movie.
"A lot of it is tax credits, so some of it is still fluid as you determine exactly what amount is tax credit and what amount comes from other sources," he said. "Some of that money will come the international distribution, which I'll be working at getting over the next number of months, and then there's still private investment to come to the table.
"Canadian films are typically supported primarily by Telefilm (Canada); this will be more like an international film or an American film that is supported by private investment, distribution advances and tax credits."
Schur said having Barks listed on the Strike! project's cast sheet is bound to open doors to international financing opportunities.
"What this does is move it from a Canadian independent movie to a movie with international release possibilities," he said. "Generally, when you have a star of Samantha's calibre, that ups the interest in British movie distribution as well as interest in the United States; her involvement makes this a killer film -- there's nobody on the planet more capable and suitable for this part that Samantha Barks. I really and truly believe she's the next Julie Andrews."
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After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.