Rebel Wilson is set to direct her first feature, The Deb, a musical set in Australia “that brings the bush into the city.”
The Deb was written by Hannah Reilly and Meg Washington based on a stage show that Wilson championed when it premiered at Sydney’s Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) in 2022. Wilson revealed that she also will co-star in the film and told us that two songs not used in the stage production will be featured in the film.
Amanda Ghost, Len Blavatnik and Gregor Cameron are producing through their company Unigram (Tetris) and sister company AI Film (I, Tonya, Hacksaw Ridge).
Shooting on locations in Sydney and rural New South Wales starting in September, The Deb will be produced in partnership with Wilson’s Camp Sugar Productions (Senior Year, The Hustle) and award-winning Australian producer Bunya Productions (The Drover’s Wife, Mystery Road). Danny Cohen executive produces on behalf of Access Entertainment.
“Basically, it came out of my scholarship program at ATYP, which is where I learned to act and put on my first show,” Wilson told us in Cannes today.
She first listened to The Deb’s score three years ago, before it was staged at the ATYP’s Rebel Theatre — named in her honor. ”I said then that I think this is a film, and after we premiered it last year I said, ”We’ve got to make this into a movie.’ Not all projects in Australia have universal appeal, but this one does.”
She added that The Deb has the kind of appeal of Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
The Deb, Wilson explained, tells the tale of two young women from different cultures. One’s from the bush and the other’s a cynical city girl. Both are searching for self-acceptance — and a date to the Deb.
Taylah Simpkins, played by Natalie Abbott, is the farm girl who hasn’t been schooled in big-city ways, while her cousin Maeve (Charlotte MacInnes) has an attitude problem.
MacInnes played Maeve in the stage production and is a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth. Abbott starred in Global Creature’s Muriel’s Wedding the Musical.
Joining them will be Australian actress Stevie Jean.
Also cast are Tara Morice (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge), Jay Laga’aia (Nim’s Island, The Lion King) and Shane Jacobson (Kenny, The Bourne Legacy).
Wilson told Deadline that over the years she has been offered “a lot of movies to direct for studios, but I feel like if it’s going to take 18 months out of my life and out of my schedule then it has to be something special if I’m going to turn down other things.
“Also, I felt this show makes you laugh and it makes you cry. I knew this was the one,” she said.
Making the film in Australia was another important factor.
“People in Australia have been very generous to me over the years,” Wilson said. She recalled Nicole Kidman giving her a scholarship when she started out, and “then I gave Hannah Reilly a scholarship. It’s about giving back, and to do it in Australia is great.”
Wilson said that it’s an “exciting” time for her fiancée Ramona Agruma and their daughter Royce Lillian. “They’ll be with me during the shoot, and I’ll let the little one come to the set when we’re doing the songs. She loves the hearing the Pitch Perferct songs.”
She boasted that in a year’s time we’ll all be listening to the sings from The Deb on TikTok.
Wilson also revealed that next year she and Agruma will be “getting married.”
“Right now”, she said “it’s a bit hectic, but it will happen in 2024.”