Director Frank Marshall and Sean Connery are in “heavy discussions” regarding Hollywood Pictures/Cinergi Prods.’ big-budget period actioner “Smoke and Mirrors.”

Sources close to the project say Marshall and Connery have expressed serious interest in the Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler spec script — which the companies optioned only two weeks ago.

Insiders indicate that official negotiations could get under way as early as this week, with deals expected to be locked up shortly.

Marshall was out of town and unreachable yesterday. The director’s agent, Creative Artists Agency’s Jay Moloney, declined comment, as did Connery’s CAA representative, Ray Kurtzman.

Hollywood Pix prexy Ricardo Mestres also refused comment.

According to sources, plans are for the movie to roll this fall, with Marshall and partner Kathleen Kennedy of Kennedy/Marshall Co. producing with Longbow Prods.’ Bill Pace and Ronnie Clemmer and Cinergi topper Andy Vajna.

Last month, Hollywood and Cinergi — whose first movie collaboration was the 1992 Connery vehicle “Medicine Man”– optioned the Batchlers’ script for around $ 500,000 in a deal brokered by William Morris agent Alan Gasmer. As reported, the writers could realize approximately $ 1 million if the film goes (Daily Variety, Feb. 16).

“Smoke and Mirrors” will mark Cinergi’s second production for Hollywood since the indie company signed an exclusive five-year deal with the studio in August 1990. Buena Vista, distribution arm for Hollywood, Disney and Touchstone, will release the picture domestically. Cinergi retains all foreign rights.

Tailor-made role

The swashbuckling movie is expected to cost $ 40 million to $ 50 million.

“This is a part written for Sean Connery,” said a Hollywood Pix insider, alluding to the pic’s lead role of French illusionist Houdin, from whom American escape artist Harry Houdini took his name.

In the story, set during the 1850s, Houdin is sent to Algeria by the French government to expose a religious sorcerer who is provoking attacks on the French colonials.

Sources indicate that Paramount Pictures is not happy that Marshall/Kennedy — with whom the studio recently inked a very rich three-year, first-look deal — would make its next picture for Disney.

Par passes, Disney picks up

Par, however, was one of the studios that passed on the “Smoke and Mirrors” spec script when it was being shopped.

Disney, on the other hand, was not at all thrilled when Marshall (and Kennedy) made his overall deal at Paramount, after the studio had given him his first two directorial opportunities — Hollywood’s 1990 horror-comedy “Arachnophobia” and 1993’s “Alive,” a Disney/Paramount co-production.

Marshall is also executive producer, with Chris Meledandri, on Hollywood Pix’s period drama “Swing Kids,” due out Friday. Marshall was originally going to direct “Swing Kids.” When he bowed out, the assignment went to Thomas Carter.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more