Long After James Dean, Jennifer Lawrence to Star in ‘East of Eden’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Jennifer Lawrence, East of Eden book cover
Jennifer Lawrence, East of Eden book cover

For her next major project, Jennifer Lawrence will be following in the footsteps of … James Dean?

It’s true: Lawrence has been announced as the star of a new screen adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel "East of Eden." The book was first brought to the screen in 1955 as a vehicle for a rising young star named James Dean, and it was his first starring role.

With Lawrence in the leading role, the focus of the new version will be different. The 1955 movie concentrated on the second half of Steinbeck's novel and the difficult relationship between brothers Cal (Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos) and their father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey).

The new film will instead focus on a major character from the first part of the book: Cathy Ames (to be played by Lawrence). Ames is a troubled young woman, described by Steinbeck as having a "malformed soul." Cathy is a bitter and self-centered woman who after setting fire to her family's home becomes a streetwalker. Later, she marries Adam Trask but abandons her husband and sons to run an upscale brothel.

Jo Van Fleet and James Dean in 'East of Eden,' 1955
Jo Van Fleet and James Dean in 'East of Eden,' 1955

Jo Van Fleet (seen here with the late Dean) played Cathy in the 1955 film, but the character only appeared in a few memorable scenes.

In addition to offering Lawrence a meaty role (one also depicted by Jane Seymour in a 1981 television version), "East of Eden" will reunite the 23-year-old actress with Gary Ross, who directed the first "Hunger Games" film, as well as "Seabiscuit" and "Pleasantville." The movie will revisit some familiar territory, as Ross's take on "The Hunger Games" borrowed from Steinbeck's classic tales of haves and have-nots, particularly the dust bowl refugees of "The Grapes of Wrath," who influenced Ross's portrayal of District 9, which Lawrence's Katniss calls home.

Universal will be financing the new "East of Eden," having obtained the rights from the John Steinbeck estate. Brian Grazer will produce the movie through Imagine Entertainment. No screenwriter has been announced though Ross has written the films he's directed in the past, so he will most likely handle the adaptation himself.

Watch 'East of Eden' 1955 Trailer: