The stranger-than-fiction story of Ukranian-born Natalia Grace and her U.S. adoptive parents, who claimed that she was an adult “sociopath” pretending to be a child, is the inspiration for an eight-episode Hulu limited series starring and executive produced by Ellen Pompeo.
As she takes on the Untitled Orphan Project, Grey’s Anatomy star Pompeo will be scaling back her on-screen presence on the ABC medical drama next season to eight episodes. She will remain a narrator and executive producer on the show.
The shocking case, which has drawn parallels to the 2009 horror movie Orphan, made national headlines in September 2019 when Kristine Barnett and her ex-husband Michael Barnett were charged with neglect for allegedly abandoning their adopted daughter Natalia, who has a rare form of dwarfism, in 2013 when she was 9. (After putting her up in an apartment, they had moved to Canada.) The parents have claimed that Natalia, whom they adopted when they thought she was 6, is in fact a mentally disturbed adult woman who threatened their lives. Most of the charges against the Barnetts eventually were dismissed; Natalia has denied the accusations that she is a grownup con artist.
The limited series was created and written by Katie Robbins (The Affair). Here is the logline: Inspired by the true story of the Midwestern couple who adopts what they believe is a little girl with dwarfism. As they begin to raise her alongside their three biological children, they slowly start to believe she may not be who she says she is. As they question her story, they’re confronted with hard questions of their own about the lengths they’re willing to go to defend themselves, falling into a battle that’s fought in the tabloids, the courtroom, and ultimately their marriage.
Pompeo will play the mother.
The project has been in the works at Hulu for a year and a half. Mike Epps and his managers Dan Spilo and Niles Kirchner had originally obtained the rights to Michael Barnett’s story before taking the idea to the Disney-controlled streamer. Hulu optioned the rights to Michael Barnett in January 2021, and Robbins was brought in to write the script. Pompeo came on board earlier this summer.
Erin Levy will serve as showrunner on the series and executive produce alongside Robbins. Pompeo will executive produce through her production banner Calamity Jane with Laura Holstein. Epps, Spilo and Niles Kirchner also executive produce alongside Andrew Stearn, who at the time of the Hulu sale had a deal at ABC Signature predecessor ABC Studios.
This marks Pompeo’s first major acting role outside of the Grey’s Anatomy franchise since the 2005 feature Life of the Party. Pompeo acted primarily in movies before she was cast as Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy 18 years ago and has been focused on the hit show ever since. In addition to starring, Pompeo serves as an executive producer on ABC’s hugely popular medical drama, which is headed to its 19th season. She is repped by CAA, John Carrabino Management, The Lede Company and Hansen Jacobson.
Robbins is repped by UTA, Aaron Kogan Management and attorney Jonathan Shikora. Levy is repped by WME. Michael Barnett was repped in the deal by attorney Terrance Kinnard.