Gladiator's Connie Nielsen, American indie muse Chloe Sevigny and Showgirls star Gina Gershon are to join the cast of Demonlover, a French-produced thriller to be directed by festival favourite Olivier Assayas.

Producer Edouard Weil, co-founder of up-and-coming production company Elisabeth Films, confirmed that the trio of US actresses will begin shooting this summer. The French and English-language story about international industrial espionage is being sold internationally by StudioCanal offshoot Wild Bunch. Shooting will take place in France, Japan and Mexico, with French actor Charles Berling also starring.

The $8m project is seen as a move into more mainstream film-making for Assayas. The director is better known on the festival circuit for period drama Les Destinees Sentimentales, 1996's Irma Vep and 1998's Fin Aout, Debut Septembre.

But in an interview with Argentinian press earlier this year, Assayas likened Demonlover to Irma Vep - which featured some espionage-like moments as Maggie Cheung, playing herself, becomes obsessed by her role in a remake of Les Vampires and burgles a hotel in a cat suit. Assayas' interest in the art vs commerce debate is reflected in the character of a French journalist, who hates all French films but loves John Woo.

"It is a sort of sequel to Irma Vep, in a very modern spirit," Assayas is quoted as saying.

Demonlover is being co-produced with digital satellite operator TPS and French terrestrial broadcaster M6. It is also backed by two tax-shelter outfits and involves a partnership with French film lab LTC-SIS.

"We are thrilled and flattered to have such exciting casting," said Weil, who launched the Elisabeth Films in 1996 with film-maker Xavier Giannoli, winner of a Palme d'Or for his short L'Interview.

Next on the production company's slate will be Giannoli's first feature, which the film-maker is currently co-writing with screenwriter Jacques Fieschi (Les Destinees Sentimentales, Place Vendome). Weil and Giannoli are also distributors through their Velvet Films banner.