South O’ the Highway

Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg to Star in Susan Merrell’s ‘Shirley’

"They seem perfect to me, completely in line with the characters I imagined," Merrell said.

Nearly four years after her novel Shirley was optioned for Hollywood, Sag Harbor author Susan Scarf Merrell learned Wednesday that Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg will star in the film adaptation, which goes into production this summer.

Deadline.com posted the news, noting that Josephine Decker (Madeline’s MadelineCollective: Unconscious) will direct the movie, while I Love Dick scribe Sarah Gubbins adapted Merrell’s book for the screen.

“I am over the moon thrilled. It’s one of those things that doesn’t quite feel real,” Merrell said on Thursday. “I can’t wait to see the story as it emerges from the hands and vision of this incredible team.”

Susan Merrell with her beagle Waffle at home
Susan Merrell with her beagle Waffle at home, Photo: B. Lassen

Published in 2014, Shirley tells the story of a fictional young woman, Rose, who moves in with real life author Shirley Jackson—best known for her short story “The Lottery” and her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House—and her husband, Bennington College professor Stanley Hyman in 1946 Vermont.

This is the same year, in the book and in real life, Bennington student Paula Jean Welden disappeared while hiking, and Rose becomes obsessed with both Welden’s case and the enigmatic Jackson.

Moss, who recently won a Primetime Emmy for her role as Offred/June in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, will play Jackson, while Stuhlbarg plays her often cruel husband Stanley. Both actors are currently red hot as Moss stars in the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, airing now, and Stuhlbarg played roles in three of this year’s Best Picture nominees—The PostCall Me By Your Name, and winner The Shape of Water.

“They seem perfect to me, completely in line with the characters I imagined,” Merrell said of the actors. It may help that Moss bears a resemblance to Jackson.

Before she captured America’s imagination in The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss earned Emmy nominations every year between 2009 and 2013 for her role as Peggy Olsen on AMC’s Mad Men, before finally winning the prize in 2015. She also earned a Golden Globe in 2014 for her performance in Top of the Lake.

Stuhlbarg has picked up a wide array of award nominations throughout his career. He’s also well known for playing Richard Clarke in Hulu’s riveting new show The Looming Tower, as well as Jewish mob figure and businessman Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

Cover of "Shirley" by Susan Scarf Merrell
Penguin Publishing Group

In addition to Shirley, Merrell authored The Accidental Bond, a 2011 nonfiction work about “how sibling connections influence adult relationships,” and her 2000 novel A Member of the Family. She directs the Southampton Writers Conference and teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton

“I am completely in shock, so happy it’s not to be believed!” Merrell said, pointing out that Shirley had been “slowly moving along” toward getting greenlit since it was first optioned in 2014. “And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to believe it’s actually real!” she added. “It’s such a thrill. I literally don’t feel as if I’m in my body right now.”

Pick up a copy of Shirley here.

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