Spielberg picks new leading lady from wards of 'Casualty'

When he began looking for a leading lady to star in his highly anticipated new television series Terra Nova, Steven Spielberg could have taken his pick from the cream of Hollywood's most famous acting talent.

He does, after all, have a budget of $150m (£95m) to make the first season of the show, not to mention the sort of bulging contacts book which comes with being the father of the modern blockbuster.

But instead, Spielberg is pinning the hopes of the most expensive TV show in recent memory on the shoulders of the little-known Shelley Conn, a British TV actress best known for occasional roles in Casualty, Mersey Beat, and the recent BBC series Party Animals. Conn will play Elizabeth Shannon, a housewife from the year 2149 who travels back in time to the era of the dinosaurs, in order to correct mistakes that have led the human species to the brink of extinction due to pollution and overdevelopment.

Her casting on Wednesday was greeted with a resounding shrug in Hollywood. Little is known about Conn, since she has never been interviewed by a major newspaper, but she was reported to be 34 years old, and distantly related to Merle Oberon, the Indian-born 1930s film star.

She recently played Jessica in the BBC drama Mistresses. In the Spielberg show, which was originally scheduled to launch next March, but is now expected to hit the airwaves later in the year, she's expected to co-star with Stephen Lang, who played the baddie in Avatar.

Terra Nova will use a similar brand of state-of-the-art special effects as James Cameron's film, and has been co-written by several writers poached from the creative team behind the recently-defunct action series 24.

Rupert Murdoch's Fox announced in May that it had ordered 13 one-hour episodes of Terra Nova, which borrows themes from Spielberg's 1990s film Jurassic Park.

Filming begins this month in Australia. The premiere is scheduled to air in May, while the 12-episode main season will be launched in the autumn. Since that represents a slight delay from the original schedule, there have been rumours of behind-the-scenes problems on the project; a fortnight ago, executive producer David Fury, resigned due to reported "creative differences".

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