Octavia Spencer is in talks to join Anne Hathaway in Robert Zemeckis' The Witches. An adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel, The Witches has been in development for several years now. The project was once envisioned as a stop-motion film by Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón, but that iteration never got off the ground and has since gone the way of many other unmade del Toro films. Warner Bros., however, has never completely lost interest in a fresh adaptation of Dahl's story and hired Zemeckis to direct a new version last year, with del Toro and Cuarón set to serve as producers.
In more recent months, casting and plot details have started to emerge for this new take on The Witches. The film, which Zemeckis is writing with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, will take place in the Gothic South in the 1960s and revolve around a retired witch-hunter and her grandson. Hathaway was cast as the movie's big bad - aka. the Grand High Witch - back in January, and it appears that another Oscar-winner is now all but confirmed for the project.
Variety reports that Spencer has all but closed a deal to play the former witch hunter in Zemeckis and Barris' version of the story. The film has further cast young newcomer Jahzir Bruno to play Spencer's onscreen grandson, who has a close encounter with a massive gathering of witches - the Grand High Witch included - when he and his grandmother are on a vacation. Meanwhile, fellow newcomer Codie-Lei Eastick is in talks to play another boy who crosses paths with Spencer's grandson and the various witches on their trip.
All things considered, Spencer is a pretty strong fit for the cigar-smoking witch hunter in this Southern-flavored retelling of The Witches. The celebrated actor - who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Help and has been nominated twice in the same category since - has played similarly sage-like characters before, but her role in Zemeckis' movie should offer Spencer some fresh acting challenges too. Spencer has made a point of trying to mix things up with her film roles of late and will continue to do so in her upcoming projects like the Blumhouse horror-thriller Ma (which was only just scheduled for a May release). That goes double for her character in The Witches, who's far more grizzled than the wisdom-dispensing women that Spencer's played in the past.
It'll also be interesting to see how the change in setting affects the rest of the story here, compared to Dahl's book and Nicolas Roeg's 1990 film adaptation of the dark fairy tale. Zemeckis has described his own take as a "sociological spin" on the story, which is certainly different from Roeg's movie. While there's nothing overtly political about Dahl's source material either, it's nevertheless something that (with a few tweaks) could easily work as a social allegory - the kind that del Toro probably had in mind back when he was working on the film, at that. Suffice it to say, this retelling of The Witches is something to keep an eye out for, the way it's shaping up.