EXCLUSIVE: Hoping perhaps for a piece of that "Little Miss Sunshine" mojo, a diverse group of actors have signed on to "He Loves Me," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' follow-up to their 2006 road-trip hit. Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, "True Blood" star Deborah Ann Woll, Elliot Gould and Chris Messina are to star in the new dramatic comedy opposite leads Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, 24 Frames has learned. The castings were confirmed by studio Fox Searchlight.
Meanwhile, "The Daily Show" veteran Aasif Mandvi is in negotiations to join the cast, said a source familiar with the production who asked not to be identified because the last deal points were still being worked out. A Searchlight representative declined to comment on Mandvi.
"He Loves Me" tells of young novelist Calvin (Dano) who achieves success early in his career but begins to face some internal struggles. In an attempt to overcome writer's block, he is told to write the woman he thinks will love him -- and winds up willing her into existence, "Weird Science"-style. Kazan, Dano's real-life girlfriend, will star as the conjured woman; she also wrote the film's screenplay.
In addition to its directors, the movie reunites "Sunshine" star Dano, producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa and "Sunshine" studio Fox Searchlight. The film is set, and has begun shooting, in Los Angeles.
Woll, known for playing Jessica Hamby on the HBO vampire series, will play Calvin's ex-girlfriend; although she has several movies in production and a few small independents under her belt, she's yet to be seen in a major theatrical release.
Among the other new cast members, Coogan will play Calvin's pompous author rival, Gould will play Calvin's therapist, Messina will play Calvin's brother, Mandvi will play Calvin's agent and Banderas will play the boyfriend of Calvin's mother (Annette Bening). The move continues a big-screen comeback of sorts for the Spanish-born actor after his well-received turn as a creepy doctor in Pedro Almodovar's recent Cannes entry "The Skin I Live In."
Mandvi, meanwhile, is the latest "Daily Show" performer to work with Dayton and Faris; Steve Carell of course did it on "Sunshine."
The directors (themselves a real-life couple) flirted with several high-profile studio pictures after breaking out with their debut. But they spent the last five years concentrating instead on their lucrative careers as commercial directors until Berger and Yerxa persuaded them to return to the feature world.
Photo: "Little Miss Sunshine." Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures