by Anita Busch
EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Monaghan is in negotiations and Alfred Molina is set to star in Saint Judy, the biopic about Los Angeles immigration attorney Judy Wood who argued a landmark case that changed the asylum laws for women coming into the U.S. Sean Hanish is directing, and the project is set to go before the cameras on May 10.
The story follows Wood, a single mother in her mid-30s who moved to Los Angeles and committed herself to immigration law, particularly asylum cases. She entered into law after having a vision about it. She would end up representing an Afghani immigrant woman who had been persecuted for opening up a school for girls in her home country.
Wood fought a tenacious battle in and out of court against established law, and the case ended up before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The result of many years of fighting for the schoolteacher resulted in Wood single-handedly changing the law of asylum nationwide, allowing women to be designated a protected class. She not only saved the life of her client but thousands of other female refugees who would have been sent back to their home countries where they faced certain death.
The film marks the third collaboration by filmmakers Hanish, Paul Jaconi-Biery and Kelly Kahl. The first two films were equity financed in full. This one is being financed similarly but with pre-sales and gap financing via Cannonball Productions, which secured Wood’s life rights and developed the story with writer Dmitry Portnoy. Wood had a number of interns working with her over the years, and Portnoy was one of them while he was in Pepperdine law school. UTA Independent Film Group is selling the film for domestic distribution.
Helmer Hanish and Cannonball Productions’ Jaconi-Biery are producing Saint Judy with Molina, who was also in their last production Sister Cities, an MOW for Lifetime. Kahl will serve as executive producer.
Monaghan stars in Hulu’s cult-religion drama The Path with Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy, which was just renewed for a third season. The Patriots Day actress is repped by ICM Partners and Circle of Confusion.
Molina is currently starring in a great showcase role as director Robert Aldrich on FX’s ratings giant Feud: Bette and Joan. He plays opposite Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper and Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner for series creator Ryan Murphy. Molina is repped by WME and Hyler Management.