Universal Pictures has dated its spy thriller “355,” starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing and Penelope Cruz, for a Jan. 15, 2021, release.
Simon Kinberg is set to direct from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck. The movie follows a group of spies from international agencies around the world. These women must bond together, overcoming their suspicions and conflicts, to stop an event from occurring that could thrust the world into chaos. A new faction is formed – code-named “355,” a name they adopt from the first female spy in the American Revolution. Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez also co-star.
Producers are Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Genre Films. The film is executive produced by Richard Hewitt (“Bohemian Rhapsody”).
Chastain proposed the idea for a female-led spy film while working with Kinberg on this summer’s “Dark Phoenix.” The cast came together during 2018 with CAA Film Finance brokering the deal and Film Nation handling international sales.
“355” hit a hurdle, however, when a whistleblower accused Fan of tax evasion. The actress stepped out of the limelight in her home country of China, and admitted to wrongdoing on social media. The spy thriller will mark Fan’s first big-screen role since the scandal.
Universal had already dated the film for Jan. 15, 2021, as an untitled Universal event movie. It’s currently the only release on the date.
Big-budget, women-led projects like the $75 million-plus spy thriller ‘355’ are tempting buyers with an of-the-moment spin on genres normally reserved for men.
When it comes to big-budget, high-level fare, the Cannes market has always been a man’s world. But at this year’s incarnation, there’s a slew of female-fronted genre films that are upending that paradigm.
Led by the James Bond-esque spy pic package 355, which will star Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o, the market appears to be catching up with the larger cultural phenomenon of women demanding their equal place amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
The five actresses joined 355 director Simon Kinberg for a Thursday presentation at the Majestic Hotel — easily the most glamorous event thus far at this year’s otherwise sleepy Cannes. Festival glitz typically takes place on a red carpet and involves a finished film. Such was not the case with the 355 presentation, whose collective star power easily eclipsed any other event of the festival to date.
Adding to the intrigue, the five women were transported by boat to a photo op near the famed Hotel du Cap. After the presentation, Chastain, who is producing the film, headed to a lunch reception at the Majestic, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and DirecTV on the Grey Goose Terrace.
The standing-room-only crowd of 300 included top buyers — both domestic and international — to hear the pitch. Sources say the film’s budget will exceed $75 million, making it one of the priciest Cannes market titles of all time. Chastain, who served as a Cannes juror last year, was disheartened by the female representations in the films she screened. So, she handpicked and enlisted Fan, Cotillard, Cruz and Nyong’o — “Luckily they all said yes,” Chastain told the buyers — as well as her X-Men: Dark Phoenix director Kinberg.
There’s no script yet, but according to Vanity Fair‘s Rebecca Keegan, who accidently was allowed into the no-press, top-secret presentation before she was kicked out while live tweeting, the plot revolves around five spies from agencies around the world who form their own team, dubbed 355. Theresa Rebeck (Catwoman) is writing the screenplay.
FilmNation, which is selling the film internationally, already is seeing brisk business, quickly landing a deal with SND for France. In the U.S., the filmmakers are looking for a theatrical distributor and see 355 as a franchise starter.
“It’s an interesting concept and definitely timely,” says eOne’s Benjamina Mirnik-Voges, who was at the presentation and buys for Germany. “The question is whether it will appeal to both female as well as male audiences, which still make up the main audience for action movies.”
Regardless, 355 isn’t an outlier this year. The market also boasts such titles as the Mila Kunis-Kate McKinnon buddy action pic The Spy Who Dumped Me, which Lionsgate is selling internationally. The Salma Hayek vehicle The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, a female spin on the Ryan Reynolds-Samuel L. Jackson action film The Hitman’s Bodyguard, is being shopped here by Millennium, which also is putting together The Expendabelles, a spinoff on its hit action franchise The Expendables.
“It’s great to see female-driven films being championed,” says Millennium’s Jeffrey Greenstein. “There are so many talented women that deserve the opportunity. It’s an exciting time.”
The 355 presentation arrived two days ahead of what is expected to be a headline-grabbing moment for women in Cannes. On Saturday night, before the world premiere of director Eva Husson’s competition title Girls of the Sun, 82 women will walk the carpet in solidarity, representing the 82 female filmmakers who have had films in the main competition in its 71 years — a paltry representation.
Still, the box-office performance of female-led genre films will dictate whether that trend is here to stay. One key test will take place June 8, when Warner Bros. releases the female ensemble heist film Ocean’s 8, starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. Recent films like the Scarlett Johansson action film Lucy, which earned $463 million worldwide, have defied the conventional wisdom that genre films should be an XY affair. Says Kinberg: “I feel lucky to be able to do something that will shake up not just the spy genre but also Hollywood to show that an ensemble of women are as commercially viable as any ensemble of men.”
On May 10, Jessica Chastain joined to Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong’o and Fan Bingbing at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to promote their upcoming spy thriller 355.
Deadline reported last week that the idea for the project came from Chastain wanting to start a Bourne-like franchise about top secret female spies from around the world coming together to fight some bad guys.
The five ladies attached to the film all come from different countries — Chastain was born in California; Cruz is from Spain; Nyong’o was born in Mexico and grew up in Kenya’ Cotillard is French, while Bingbing is from China.
Chastain said that she wanted to make the film after having “so much fun working on The Help“ with its star-studded ensemble of high-profile actresses — almost all of whom have gone on to win Academy Awards since the 2011 film. She’s listed as a producer on the upcoming project, which has yet to start filming. No director has been announced as of yet.
“I love the Bourne movies, the Mission: Impossible films, and wondered why, except for Charlie’s Angels, there hadn’t been a true female ensemble action-thriller spy film,” Chastain told the outlet. “That got my wheels going, along with the idea of casting actresses from all over the world to truly make it an international project. I called all the women, told them what I was envisioning and that I wanted it to be a collaborative process, and how we would all create this together.”
And the Zero Dark Thirty actress wanted to make sure Cannes was the place they announced their movie, which is currently shopping for distribution at the annual event.“The one thing that felt important is that we all show up at Cannes, because that would be the beginning of our journey together,” she explained. “Every single actress I called said yes, on the phone call. They committed to Cannes and to everything. So far it has been a very wonderfully easy process.”
Jessica was wearing a dress by Wolk Morais, Piaget jewelry and Jimmy Choo shoes. Check the pictures in our gallery:
DEADLINE – The all-star spy thriller 355 has scored its first major territorial deal, with FilmNation Entertainment and CAA Media Finance Group setting a whopping deal in France with SND this evening.
That deal was made before tomorrow’s affair at the Cannes Majestic where director Simon Kinberg will be on hand with Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o to discuss their ambition for the spy ensemble, before a crowd of international and domestic buyers. Deadline revealed the project last week and this week placed it atop the most anticipated list of star packages unveiled at the Cannes Market.
SND was particularly passionate and aggressive and the filmmakers decided, why wait to make the first deal?
As Deadline reported last week, the film has a script by Theresa Rebeck and the hope is to launch a franchise based on an idea by Chastain to construct aBourne Identity-like thriller revolving around five accomplished secret agents from countries around the world. They have to overcome suspicions and political differences to form a spy sisterhood to thwart a common enemy.
When Chastain described her idea to Kinberg while they worked together on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, he said yes immediately, and the actresses followed suit and agreed to come to Cannes tomorrow (Cruz is already here for the opening night film Everybody Knows, which sold to Focus Features). FilmNation is selling international and CAA Media Finance Group is selling North American and Chinese distribution rights. Freckle Films’ Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing with Kinberg and his Kinberg Genre banner.
Chastain wove some of the spy craft she learned starring in Zero Dark Thirty, and she has brought in some intelligence experts to inject cutting edge technology to help shape the narrative. That inside baseball stuff included the title, which was the code name of the first female spy in the American Revolution and became jargon for a female intelligence agent. It certainly feels like the filmmakers will be going home with a slew of deals on this one.
DEADLINE – Hard to imagine there will be a hotter film package unveiled at Cannes next week than 355, a large-scale espionage film that Simon Kinberg will direct with an all-star international spy cast of Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o. They’ll play international agents in a grounded, edgy action thriller that aims to alter a male-dominated genre with a true female ensemble, in the style of spy franchises The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible and James Bond. The script is by Theresa Rebeck. The hope is to launch a franchise.
The actresses will be on hand with Kinberg next week to pitch their vision to international buyers at the Majestic Hotel on the Croisette. FilmNation Entertainment will sell international and CAA Media Finance Group will rep North American and Chinese distribution rights. Freckle Films’ Chastain and Kelly Carmichael are producing with Kinberg and his Kinberg Genre banner.
Kinberg just directed and Chastain starred in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The idea for 355 came from Chastain, and she pitched it to him while they worked on that superhero film on which Kinberg made his feature directing debut. It didn’t take long for Chastain to get commitments from the filmmaker, and the actresses.
“I had so much fun working on The Help that I always wanted to do another female ensemble film,” Chastain told Deadline. “I love the Bourne movies, the Mission: Impossible films, and wondered why, except for Charlie’s Angels, there hadn’t been a true female ensemble action-thriller spy film. That got my wheels going, along with the idea of casting actresses from all over the world to truly make it an international project. I realized the incredible creative freedom we would have with that. I brought the idea to Simon, told him about the actresses I was thinking of, and he was so sweet. He said, ‘I want to do it with you.’
“Then I called all the women, told them what I was envisioning and that I wanted it to be a collaborative process, and how we would all create this together,” Chastain said. “The one thing that felt important is that we all show up at Cannes, because that would be the beginning of our journey together. Every single actress I called said yes, on the phone call. They committed to Cannes and to everything. So far it has been a very wonderfully easy process.”
Beyond The Help, the project that most helped inform Chastain’s appetite for espionage was Zero Dark Thirty, for which she also was Oscar-nominated. Through that research, Chastain found the film’s title.
“When I was preparing for Zero Dark Thirty, I had incredible resources working in the CIA I got to learn from,” she said. “We have a consultant in our film that has a lot of knowledge in espionage. This title came from one of the conversations I had with him. Agent 355 was the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution. She was one of the very first spies for the United States, and her identity is still unknown. For a lot of women who work in the CIA and other organizations like that, Code 355 is a universal slang term for female spy. It’s the invisible woman who was never named.”
Kinberg said that tonally, the Bourne franchise is the touchstone, only here the agents will be women, and they will share the screen equally.
“It won’t be as hyperbolic as some franchises, and unlike the other films that revolve around one main character, the goal here is the true ensemble, all these characters who have their own distinct traits, histories — fully formed and complex characters with equal weight in the film. That’s unique, as is having all female spies. We are digging into the reality of spy craft today. There are all kinds of things that seem out of a James Bond or even a sci-fi movie, but the technology is so advanced that it’s real. Having someone who knows that reality informing the script has been really helpful.”
The film involves these top agents from organizations around the world uniting to stop a global organization from acquiring a weapon that could plunge an already unstable world into total chaos. They have to overcome cultural and political differences to form a bond and work together.
“What we can say is, they come up against an organization larger than the established spy organizations we’ve known up to this point,” said Kinberg, long the creative spine of the X-Men franchise and who’s separately writing and producing a Star Wars film. “We are hoping to create a franchise with this, and the first film will be the agents coming together.”
While the cast creates the opportunity for glamour to go along with the global locations and action set pieces, this will not be some campy outing. Those Zero Dark Thirty experiences with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal set Chastain’s bar for reality very high.
“It’s a film and not a documentary, but our goal is to make this action spy thriller as authentic as we can, with as much trade craft as we can,” she said. “So when people in these organizations, in the CIA or MI6 around the world see the film, my goal is they will say, ‘Wow, this is pretty authentic. They got it.’ That was the thing I loved the most in making Zero Dark Thirty.”
The other thing that was important was to broaden the opportunities and expectations for women in this #MeToo moment, something that means a great deal to Chastain and her co-stars.
“The action genre has long been dominated by male heroes, and it’s so exciting to be part of a film that will allow for not just one female action hero but a whole ensemble of very capable, fierce female characters that reject tired stereotypes,” she said. “Characters that liberate from the confines of stereotypical traits. That is something that excited me about this, the opportunity to create different types of female heroes.”
Kinberg is repped by CAA and attorney Karl Austen; Chastain is CAA, Mosaic and Hansen Jacobson; Cotillard is CAA and Adequat; Cruz is CAA, Untitled and Kuranda Management; Bingbing is CAA and Nyong’o is CAA and Del Shaw.