WILMINGTON — An actor who got his start in television in the Port City seems to be returning to his old stomping ground to work on a new production.
STARZ, in collaboration with Warner Bros., announced last May a yet-to-be-titled romantic drama is being spearheaded by award-winning talent, including producer and director Ava DuVernay, and actors Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff.
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Jackson first became a regular face in the greater Wilmington area in the late ‘90s and early aughts while filming the teen drama “Dawson’s Creek” for six seasons.
A project his name is attached to has offices set up in Wilmington’s EUE/Screen Gems Studios, multiple sources confirmed to Port City Daily.
Only one production, “Untitled J+L Project,” is currently on the Wilmington Film Commission website in pre-production. The project’s listing on the Film and Television Industry Alliance notes DuVernay is the writer, with producer Paul Garnes also involved — a long-time producing partner who became the president of DuVernay’s ARRAY Filmworks in 2021.
Revealed by STARZ last spring, the series’ storyline matches the FTIA listing. It follows the rebellious love affair of Jack and Lily, “two polar opposites,” and explores how love survives between people from disparate spheres. One person is deaf and the other isn’t. One is Black, the other is white — one driven, the other “restless.”
“Their attraction passionately disrupts notions of race, gender, class, physical ability, and normative culture, elevating to true love that surpasses difference,” STARZ described in a press release last May.
STARZ announced it was launching the 18-episode series during its inaugural #TakeTheLead summit last year. The company made a “commitment to amplifying narratives for, by and about women and underrepresented audiences,” according to the release.
Through ARRAY Filmworks, DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) has been hailed for creating inclusive content and advocating for voices not often represented in film. The Golden Globe and Oscar nominee has been honored for her work with a Peabody, BAFTA and Emmy. She is writing and directing the half-hour episodes for STARZ, with Kat Candler (“Queen Sugar,” “13 Reasons Why”) penning the first episode.
“STARZ and Warner Bros. have made a bold production commitment to immediately explore three seasons, and we’re revved up and ready to begin what I hope will be a beautiful journey for all involved,” DuVernay said in last spring’s release.
The director visited Wilmington in 2011 as part of the North Carolina Black Film Festival, which screened her film “I Will Follow.” The story captured an artist who had to care for her sick aunt.
Recently known for the creation of “Queen Sugar,” based on the novel of the same name by Natalie Baszile, DuVernay won the NAACP Image Awards twice for the Opera Winfrey Network-produced show and has been nominated 12 times. It centered around three children in Louisiana dealing with their father’s death and an 800-acre sugarcane farm left behind. It was hailed for its progressive, universal writing that depicted the lives of modern-day Black Americans. DuVernay also welcomed first-time female directors to gain work on the series throughout its run, which wrapped in November.
“We are thrilled to be in development with Ava, a trailblazer and unparalleled champion of diversity,” Kathryn Busby, president of original programming of STARZ, said in the release.
In addition to starring in the lead roles, Jackson and Ridloff serve as executive producers on “Untitled J+L Project.”
The two actors first worked together in 2018’s Broadway production “Children of a Lesser God” by Mark Medoff, who first debuted the play in 1979. The title role of Sarah Norman was written for deaf actress Phyllis Frelich; the play eventually became a movie in the ‘80s starring Marlee Matlin and William Hurt.
Ridloff — former Miss Deaf America — reprised the role five years ago, with Jackson starring as her American Sign Language interpreter who falls in love with her. The two received nominations from the Drama League, Tony and Outer Critics for their performances in Medoff’s play.
Since then, Ridloff has starred in “The Walking Dead” from 2018 to 2022 and has a new series, “Accused,” currently airing on Fox. The show is a BBC remake for America and follows crimes of various characters and the trials that determine their punishments.
“Lauren is a true inspiration and together with Joshua, a brilliant veteran actor, they will bring their incredible talents to this project,” Busby said in STARZ’s release.
Perhaps best known locally as Pacey Witter, Jackson gained worldwide acclaim more than two decades ago as one of four main characters on “Dawson’s Creek,” also starring Katie Holmes, James Van Der Beek, and Michelle Williams. Centered on friends from the small coastal town of Capeside, the show has become a cult favorite that dealt with overcoming high-school teen angst and the growing pains of early adulthood in college. It continues bringing fans worldwide to Wilmington to see popular filming locations.
In the 20 years since Jackson left the Port City, his career has included more than three dozen projects, such as “The Affair,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Dr. Death,” and the upcoming “Fatal Attraction.” The latter is a series remake of the 1987 Michael Douglas and Glenn Close film, scheduled to stream April 30 on Paramount+.
Casting has been underway for “Untitled J+L Project” since at least December. Lisa Zagoria, the casting director according to FTIA, put out a national call through Deafnetwork.com looking to fill five roles with deaf talent.
On March 3, another release was posted on the website, calling for an actor to portray a trans female from a Mexican American family, fluent in English, Spanish, ASL and Mexican Sign Language. The casting call confirmed a “premium TV series” is being filmed from spring through fall in Wilmington.
The dates align with an eastern region production sheet obtained by Port City Daily, showing projects starting this month include “Untitled Joshua and Lauren Project.” It states filming will begin March 27 and cease by the beginning of September; Screen Gems Studios is also listed as its production address.
Wilmington-based TW Cast and Recruit announced Wednesday it’s casting extras for the show.
Port City Daily reached out to STARZ on March 9 for verification that the DuVernay series is in town.
“We don’t have anything we can confirm at this time,” vice president of publicity Leslie Gwinn responded.
This is the third production filmed so far in the Port City in 2023. Jamie Lynn Spears’ “Zoey 102” for Nickelodeon wrapped last month, while Honey Head Films has an independent film, “A Bigger Piece of Sky (aka The Confession),” in production.
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