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Who should star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s high school movie?
Lachlan Watson (@lachrwatson) and Ncuti Gatwa (@ncutigatwa) via Instagram, Ian via Dazed, photography Tom Ordoyno, styling Ellie Grace Cumming

Who should star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70s high school movie?

The director is to start work on his new drama early next year, so we thought we’d give him a hand with casting

Paul Thomas Anderson is to start work next year on a high school drama set in the 1970s, The Hollywood Reporter has revealed. Anderson has recently turned his attention to various music projects including the Netflix short ANIMA, made in collaboration with Thom Yorke, and a music video for HAIM’s “Now I’m In It” after several other visuals with the Cali pop group. This latest project marks his return to the silver screen for the first time since 2017’s Phantom Thread.

Anderson will write, direct, and produce the film, which is to be released through his Ghoulardi Film Company and is set in San Fernando Valley, California where he grew up. Three of the director’s most iconic films were located there – Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – so it’s clearly a rich source of inspiration for him.

It will focus on a high school student who is also a successful child actor, but little other narrative details have been revealed. But what about the cast? According to The Hollywood Reporter, casting is already underway for the film, and production is planned for February 2020. Here we imagine upcoming actors, in no particular order, who he should consider for the lead and supporting roles:


Elsie Fisher made her name as the impossibly affectionate Agnes in Despicable Me back in 2010, a role she made famous with the immortal line: “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” in reference to a huge stuffed unicorn toy. But the American actor has gone on to win critical acclaim in her more recent turn as angsty teenager Kayla Day in the 2018 comedy-drama Eighth Grade, a role that earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress. Her part in Bo Burnham’s raw portrait of awkward teenhood today was rightfully lauded – she perfectly captures those young existential crises we all know painfully well. Sign her up Paul.


Lily Rose-Depp was last seen extracting the soul from Timothée Chalamet on a boat at the Venice film festival, but don’t let that distract you from the her undeniable talent. Rose-Depp was there, after all, to promote The King, the medieval Netflix drama in which she plays the part of Henry V’s French wife, Catherine of Valois. This was a mainstream debut of sorts for Rose-Depp, 20, in which she proved herself a hot prospect for the future. With only brief screentime, we saw some finesse, wit, and cool delivery that could translate from Medieval queen to razor-tongued high school stock. Get her on DM, Paul.


Ncuti Gatwa burst onto the scene this year with his complex portrayal of black, queer teenhood in the Netflix series Sex Education, with his role as high school student Eric Effoing. Effoin is the best friend of the socially awkward Otis (Asa Butterfield) who discovers a hidden talent for giving relationship advice to his equally awkward high school peers, thanks in part to the fact that his mum is a sex therapist. But Gatwa regularly steals the show with his magnetic charisma and stunning line delivery – he may be 27, but he’s also blessed with an eternally youthful face. So he should still be in the running for your film if you’re reading, Paul.


Four years ago, 18-year-old Ian Alexander had no acting experience, but when he came across a casting call on Tumblr for a Netflix show asking specifically for a 15-year-old Asian-American trans male actor, he decided he should give it a shot. “Well, that all applies to me,” he said in an interview with LGBTQ platform, Them, “so I think I should just go for it.” Fast forward to 2019 and his performances in what became a hit Netflix series, The OA, have proven that the young actor from Salt Lake City, Utah, is one to watch. The Utah native also now lives in Los Angeles (take note, PTA), having moved there independently age 17. “It’s a stark difference from being one of the first openly trans people in my high school to suddenly having friends who are all trans and on T (testosterone),” Alexander told Dazed. Alexander definitely has the real-life experience of high school strife and personal growth, as well as the acting chops.


When they debuted in the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in 2018, Lachlan Watson was one of the youngest non-binary actors in Hollywood. Watson, still just 18 years of age, is an outspoken activist for LGBTQ+ rights and has already starred in several professional Shakespeare productions. Watson, whose first love is theatre, is even making their own production of the bard’s final play, The Tempest. An incredible talent that you don’t want to miss out on Paul.