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Audrey Wells, director of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and writer of 'The Hate U Give,' dies at 58

Audrey Wells, director of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and writer of 'The Hate U Give,' dies at 58
Audrey Wells, whose films ranged from "Under the Tuscan Sun" to this week's "The Hate U Give," was 58. (courtesy UTA)

Director and screenwriter Audrey Wells, whose films ranged from “Under the Tuscan Sun” to the newly released “The Hate U Give,” died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. She was 58.

Her passing was announced by her longtime agency UTA on Friday.

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Wells’ career in Hollywood spanned over two decades, during which she wrote a number of strong female leads as well as studio vehicles for male stars like Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson.

Her most recent film, “The Hate U Give,” directed by George Tillman Jr., stars Amandla Stenberg as a black teenager who witnesses a police shooting. After world premiering last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, the adaptation of the YA novel by Angie Thomas opens today in limited release powered by strong word of mouth and critical acclaim.

20th Century Fox, the studio behind “The Hate U Give,” said in a statement, "We are simply heartbroken. Audrey's was a voice of empowerment and courage, and her words will live on through the strong, determined female characters she brought to life.”

“Audrey was a beloved client and, far more importantly, a wonderful friend,” said UTA co-president David Kramer in a statement. “It was impossible not to fall in love with her and the passion that brought her stories to life.

“The strong, independent female characters she shaped resonate today more than ever and will be a part of her legacy always. We will miss her amazing, spirit, creativity and the love she gave us. She was truly special.”

Wells was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she began her career as a radio disc jockey at KJAZ-FM. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor’s degree, she moved to Los Angeles to study film at UCLA.

After a stint working in public radio in Alaska she sold her first spec script to Paramount, “Radio Free Alaska,” but it wasn’t until 1996 that Wells would see her first screenplay brought to life: “The Truth About Cats & Dogs,” a contemporary Cyrano de Bergerac tale starring Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman.

Wells continued to write, scripting studio films ranging from action comedy (1997’s “George of the Jungle”), fantasy drama (2000’s “The Kid”), romantic comedy (2004’s “Shall We Dance”), family comedy (2007’s “The Game Plan”), and 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” on which she was one of five credited writers.

Behind the camera, Wells gave particularly memorable voice to women in the two films she directed. First, the 1999 Sarah Polley-starrer “Guinevere,” about a woman processing her relationship with an older artist, which also featured a scene-stealing monologue delivered by actress Jean Smart.

Her second and final turn as director was the 2003 Diane Lane vehicle “Under the Tuscan Sun,” a hit lit adaptation that inspired women to travel themselves to happiness and live their best lives.

Wells’ last film, the animated “Over the Moon,” is in production now.

The filmmaker is survived by her daughter, Tatiana, and her husband, Brian Larky.

“Over the last five and half years, Audrey fought valiantly against her illness and she died surrounded by love. Even during her fight, she never stopped living, working or traveling, and she never lost her joy, wonder and optimism,” said Larky in a statement.

“She was, simply, the most incredible wife and partner imaginable, and she knew always that she was loved by Tatiana, me, and the friends who were her chosen family. She said just recently, ‘We’re so lucky, honey. We got to live a love story. Who gets to do that?’ We will carry her forward with us forever — as a mother, as a wife, as an artist and creator, and as a friend. She was irreplaceable.”

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