Richard Linklater, who is known for decades-spanning projects like Boyhood and the Before Sunset/Sunrise/Midnight series, has finally encountered a significant complication during the production of such a film. The Dazed and Confused and School of Rock filmmaker revealed that his adaptation of the Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along will recast a key role. Paul Mescal, the Normal People star who is lined up to be the lead in Ridley Scott’s upcoming sequel to Gladiator, will step in to star in the film opposite Ben Platt and Beanie Feldstein. He replaces Blake Jenner, who previously starred in Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!!.
The project started filming in 2019, and Jenner reportedly shot some scenes for the movie (according to Above the Line, who announced the change). He exited the project after his ex-wife, Supergirl star Melissa Benoist, publicly discussed her experiences with domestic violence. While she never named Jenner specifically, he was implicated by context clues, and later apologized to Benoist for what he admitted was an emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive relationship.
“I first saw, and fell in love with Merrily in the ’80s, and I can’t think of a better place to spend the next 20 years than in the world of a Sondheim musical,” Linklater told the New York Times in 2019. “I don’t enter this multiyear experience lightly, but it seems the best, perhaps the only way, to do this story justice on film.”
Mascal will take on the role of Franklin Shepard, a talented Broadway composer who leaves his theatre career and his friends behind in the hopes of hitting it big Hollywood. The play begins after Shepard is already famous in Hollywood and flashes back, exploring some of the most important moments of his life and career.
The movie shoot has been described as a 20-year process, suggesting that the actors are likely shooting scenes in chronological order, culminating with that aforementioned opening sequence. This is an extension of the kind of project Linklater made with Boyhood, the Oscar-winning film shot over the course of 12 years and released in 2014.
According to Above the Line, Feldstein will play Frank’s best friend, theater critic Mary Flynn, and Platt will play Charley, Frank’s lyricist. The film will be produced by Linklater, Jason Blum, and Jonathan Marc Sherman.
Merrily We Roll Along, based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, is set for release in 2039.