Denzel Washington has been set to star opposite Julia Roberts in Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Pelican Brief,” which Alan J. Pakula is directing from his screen adaptation of the best-selling John Grisham novel.

As reported (Daily Variety, March 2), Pakula and Roberts had embraced the idea of Washington in the role and then convinced WB to make him an offer and a deal was struck.

Washington is nominated for a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Malcolm X in the studio’s recent Spike Lee biopic.

Bagging a role

In “Pelican Brief,” Washington will play a baggy-jean reporter. The story is a contemporary suspense thriller about a young female law student who solves a notorious crime and endangers her own life in the process.

Christmas release slated

Production is expected to get under way this spring for a Christmas release. Pakula and Pieter Jan Brugge will serve as producers.

WB officials declined comment yesterday, as did Washington’s agent, ICM’s Ed Limato.

‘Philadelphia’ next up

Washington’s next screen appearance will be as the homophobic attorney who defends AIDS patient Tom Hanks in Jonathan Demme’s drama “Philadelphia,” due out Oct. 22 through TriStar.

The actor earned a supporting Oscar for the Ed Zwick-directed “Glory.”

His other pix include Richard Attenborough’s “Cry Freedom,” Norman Jewison’s “A Soldier’s Story” and Mira Nair’s “Mississippi Masala.”

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