Australian actress Rose Byrne is "excited" to play Jacinda Ardern in an upcoming film about the March 15 terrorist attack.
There has been widespread outrage across New Zealand and around the world about the movie, titled They Are Us, which is set to centre on Ardern's response to the Christchurch attack. While the film's producers say they consulted members of the Muslim commuity, those Newshub spoke to say they were blindsided by the news on Friday.
A petition calling for the movie to be "shut down" has reached more than 20,000 signatures in less than a day.
Ardern has distanced herself from the film, saying her story is not the one that needs to be told and that her Government has nothing to do with the film.
But Byrne, the actress cast to play Ardern, is looking forward to the role.
“Yes, yes, so I’m attached to this film to play Jacinda Ardern,” Byrne said while promoting her new film, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway in an Associated Press video.
"It focuses on the horrific terrorist attack in New Zealand. She’s such a fascinating character. So I’m really excited about that."
The film will be written and directed by Kiwi Andrew Niccol. He was nominated for an Academy Award for writing 1998's The Truman Show. He made his directorial debut with science-fiction film Gattaca. Byrne is known for her comedic performances in Spy, Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids.
Responding to the criticism on Friday, Philippa Campbell, one of the film's producers, told Newshub: "The challenges are obviously huge."
"We have a deep respect for the communities at the heart of the tragedy. We want to assure them and New Zealand audiences that we understand the responsibility of telling this story," she said.
Campbell said that the production had worked with "a considerable number" of family members of the victims, but admitted they weren't able to consult with everyone.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the New Zealand Film Commission told Newshub while there was no indication the production would seek contestable financing from it, they understood They Are Us intends to apply for the New Zealand Screen Production Grant - part of the Government's screen incentives scheme.