Roberts inks 2-yr. deal with Roth

Julia Roberts has inked a semi-exclusive, two-year deal with indie producer Joe Roth, primarily to star in projects for his newly christened Disney-based movie company, Caravan Pictures.

Roberts will hang her own indie banner YMA Prods. under Caravan’s roof, where a film executive will be hired by the two entities expressly to develop material for the actress to star in and produce.

According to Roth, Roberts will only produce those projects in which she does not star.

The former 20th Century Fox movie chief also said Roberts is exclusive to Caravan as far as “any piece of material” she develops or is submitted to her by outside parties. However, she is entirely free to accept movie offers from other studios.

“She gets our service to find, develop and supervise material for her,” said Roth, who enjoys a close working relationship with Roberts from when she starred in two Fox films, “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “Dying Young.”

Roth is in the midst of closing a book deal for what he hopes will be Roberts’ first movie project “out of the box” under the new arrangement, A.M. Homes’ soon-to-be-published novel “In a Country of Mothers.”

The recently departed 20th Century Fox movie topper confirmed that both Roberts and Susan Sarandon have “read and signed off on the material,” meaning they’ve “committed” to star in the picture pending consummation of the book-rights deal. ICM agent Irene Webb is negotiating the deal.

Roth describes the feminist thriller, which will be published next spring by Knopf, as a “‘Fatal Attraction’ between two women,” focusing on the relationship between a graduate film student and the woman who becomes her therapist.

Roberts would play the grad student, who in the story is working on a film being shot in New York, when she meets the therapist, to be played by Sarandon.

“It’s a pretty strong piece,” said Roth, noting, “It’s very sexual and it’s about how they drive each other crazy. She (Roberts) has a very complicated relationship with the therapist, who thinks Julia is the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was young.”

A screenwriter will not be assigned to adapt the material until the book deal closes, Roth said.

Sources said Roth also is developing a remake of John Cromwell’s 1945 movie “The Enchanted Cottage” possibly as a Roberts vehicle. Screenwriter Peter Barnes (“Enchanted April”) is writing the screenplay, and he is negotiating for another book as a potential movie for the actress.

Roberts, however, has not committed to either potential project at this stage.

Roth said he specifically will look to star Roberts in “real romantic films” and more comedies.

Roberts, whose last big-screen outing was last year’s Steven Spielberg movie “Hook,” has an outstanding commitment to star in Alan Pakula’s forthcoming adaptation of John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief” for Warner Bros., for which a script is still in the works.

The deal with Roth is unique in that talent normally signs these type of first-look arrangements with studios rather than indie producers.

Roberts’ first affiliation with Disney was her starring role in Touchstone’s 1990 box office hit romantic comedy “Pretty Woman” opposite Richard Gere.

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