Years before Peter Jackson set out on his impressive six film adaptation of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, he was already one to watch in Hollywood. His 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, co-penned by his partner Fran Walsh. The film’s probably most notable for launching the career of Kate Winslet, whose complex performance as murderer Juliet Hulme caught the attention of critics and audiences alike.
The New Zealand filmmaker could potentially have more breakout actors on his hands for the adaptation of the sci-fi/fantasy book series Mortal Engines, which Jackson is producing. Earlier this month, the movie found its two male leads in the form of Robbie Sheehan and Ronan Raferty, but there are still more roles to fill. Now, Mortal Engines has its female star: Hera Hilmar.
According to Variety, Hilmar will play female lead Hester Shaw in the prospective film franchise opener, which Jackson is also co-writing with Walsh and Philippa Boyens. This first film marks the directorial debut of Jackson’s long-time visual effects collaborator Christian Rivers, a 2006 Oscar winner for his work on King Kong.
Hilmar plays a mysterious young woman from Earth, thousands of years in our future. With resources diminishing on the dystopian planet, cities roam the planet on huge wheels, devouring each other in their wake. Sheehan (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) plays Tom Natsworthy, whose life is changed forever after encountering “Anti-Tractionist” Hester. This is Hilmar’s first key role with a major studio, though you may have caught the Icelander as Vanessa in the Starz! series Da Vinci’s Demons.
There are four award-winning books in the Mortal Engines series to date, which were optioned by the filmmakers from Scholastic back in 2001. Expectations for franchise potential a la Harry Potter or The Hunger Games are no doubt anticipated for worldwide distributor Universal Pictures.
Jackson has in the past proven he has a Sauron-sized eye for material, and a knack for discovering great talent. His casting of newcomer Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones soon landed her the lead in Brooklyn, he pretty much made Andy Serkis the household name in motion-capture performance, and Neill Blomkamp has Jackson to thank for bringing District 9 to feature-length.
This long-in-the-planning cinematic adaptation of Reeve’s books is a gamble for co-funders Media Rights Capital. Since 2001, there have been plenty of young adult book series to quickly became non-starters for their studios, notably The Golden Compass and The Dark is Rising. MRC is also behind this summer’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba as gunslinger Roland Deschain. They have a lot riding on the project, but all the pieces are starting to come into place and there’s no denying the talent involved. Hopefully it can buck the recent trend of YA films underperforming and become a thrilling film series.