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‘IT’ Star Sophia Lillis Will Be Nancy Drew

The iconic teenage detective returns to the big screen for a third time with a very promising young star.
It Sophia Lillis
By  · Published on April 23rd, 2018

The iconic teenage detective returns to the big screen for a third time with a very promising young star.

The best ensemble casts work together as a cohesive unit, and the child stars of Andy Muschietti’s IT are no different. They mesh wonderfully as onscreen best friends and comrades against a killer clown, making IT a surprise hit. That being said, there are of course particularly strong links in the chain, such as young Sophia Lillis.

In It, Lillis plays Beverly Marsh — the only girl in the Losers’ Club — with enough subtlety and nuance to be a real standout. Her star continues to be on the rise as she prepares to tackle yet another iconic literary character: Nancy Drew.

Deadline reports that Lillis is further cultivating a working relationship with Warner Bros. by signing on to star in their newest adaptation of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” by Carolyn Keene (aka Mildred Wirt Benson). The novel is the second volume in the long-running “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” children’s book series and was actually first adapted into a 1939 film starring Bonita Granville.

Granville played Nancy Drew in four films for Warner Bros., with Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase marking her final appearance as the character. Those early films, which ranged from comedy to mystery, set a precedent for particularly loose adaptations of the book series. Granville’s run transposes family-friendly books about petty crime into murder mystery stories aimed at a wider audience, especially by the time of The Hidden Staircase‘s release.

In actuality, the film sports a totally different story from its novelistic counterpart. “The Hidden Staircase” centers on Nancy solving a mystery that may or may not involve a haunted house. She receives a phone call from a friend who notices suspicious happenings in the old mansion that she lives in with her mother and aunt. Right after the call ends, she and her attorney father then are visited by a strange man who warns them that they are in danger due to a real estate case that her father is working on. Nancy has to then work out if these seemingly disparate cases are in fact related.

In comparison, the 1939 film is a much more straightforward affair: the chauffeur of two elderly spinsters is shot, making matters more difficult for the women who are working out the provisions of their father’s will regarding their mansion. Charming but undoubtedly far too stubborn, Nancy works with Ned — who is often characterized as her love interest in the series — to solve the case (although “works with” is a generous statement; she actually blackmails him quite a bit). Despite Nancy’s combative relationship with the police and other adults around her, her headstrong nature leads her to the truth.

Whatever the studio decides to do with the “Hidden Staircase” story this time, Lillis is a great choice to play Nancy, as the role will tap into her established talents as well as continue to challenge her. We only got to see an inkling of a strong-willed personality in It, given that Beverly isn’t necessarily the most empowered character throughout that movie. The role of a snarky detective is a fantastic remedy to that. Portrayals of Nancy thus far haven’t been as dark as Beverly is either. Of course, the studio could angle for the horror subtext this time — that wouldn’t be a surprise after It‘s success. But if for whatever reason Nancy Drew is still more delightful than disturbed, that would be a new type of role for Lillis.

She will be the third actress to walk in the inquisitive teen sleuth’s shoes as far as big screen features go. Many decades after Granville, Emma Roberts headlined the 2007 movie Nancy Drew, which isn’t based on a specific book. There have been a number of small-screen versions of the character in the years between, however, and there’s another TV project in the works now at NBC.

The 1939 version of The Hidden Staircase may be very different from the original book, but it remains engaging enough because of its shining protagonist. Amidst other classics that are making a comeback thanks to reboot culture along with a plethora of women-led media constantly in the works, a new Nancy Drew film absolutely makes sense. The industry is constantly trying to revive some semblance of the property anyway. However, Warner Bros. has the edge of having one of the most gifted young actresses on board from the get go.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)