Musician Grace VanderWaal, who won the 2016 America's Got Talent competition at the age of 12, has been cast in the title role of Stargirl - one of the first original films being produced exclusively for Disney's upcoming streaming service. VanderWaal beat out 700 young actresses for the lead role in the movie, which is based on a young adult novel by Jerry Spinelli.
Originally published in the year 2000, Stargirl told the story of a strange girl, formerly home-schooled, and how she took her high school by storm with her eccentric behavior and eclectic dress sense. The story is told from the viewpoint of Leo, a shy boy who comes to admire Stargirl for her strong sense of individuality and unwillingness to change, even when she is bullied by the most popular girl in school. A New York Times Best Seller upon its initial release, Stargirl won multiple awards, including a place on the American Library Association's Top Ten Best Books for Teens list. It saw a resurgence in popularity in 2015, when President Barack Obama was seen buying a copy of the book for his daughters.
Deadline reported upon the casting decision, and spoke with director Julia Hart, who also co-wrote the shooting script for the film with her writing partner, Jordan Horowitz, working from the screen adaptation by Kristin Hahn. This will be VanderWaal's first time acting, but Hart was quick to say that VanderWall is the perfect performer for the role.
"I knew she was Stargirl almost immediately," said Hart. "The world knows what a talented performer she is, and I cannot wait for everyone to see just how many sides there are to this special and magical young woman."
While it remains to be seen if VaderWaal is as talented an actress as she is a singer and songwriter, she has proven the perfect performer to play Stargirl in one respect. One of the character's quirks in the original novel is that she brings a ukulele to school and sings "Happy Birthday" to any student whose birthday happens to be on that day. VanderWaal's instrument of choice is the ukulele, though she also plays the saxophone. It seems likely this may have been a factor in her being cast, in addition to VanderWaal sharing the character's confidence and bold attitude.
The film adaptation of Stargirl is one of the projects being developed for Disney's new streaming service, which is expected to go live sometime in 2019. The ultimate goal is for the streaming service to produce four to five unique feature length films each year, in addition to a number of original series. These series will include at least one new show from Marvel Television, a High School Musical show, a new Star Wars live-action television series written and produced by Jon Favreau and an animated series based on Pixar's Monsters Inc. films. While Stargirl may not be the most highly anticipated project in that esteemed assembly, it seems like it will be a quality film and the start of something big for Grace VanderWaal.