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In earnest, Roberts eyes Hemingway romance next

At week’s end, Julia Roberts and her ICM agents Elaine Goldsmith and Jeff Berg were in the process of filling out the actress’s dance card for next year.

She seems this close to joining Chris O’Donnell and director Richard Attenborough for “In Love and War,” with O’Donnell playing a young Ernest Hemingway and Roberts poised to play a woman he falls in love with, who inspires him to write “A Farewell to Arms.”

The relationship is loosely based on one depicted in a collection of edited letters called “Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost War Diary of Agnes Von Kurowsky,” compiled by Henry Villard and James Nagel. The script was written by Allan Scott (“Don’t Look Now”). Scott most recently wrote the Penny Marshall-directed Whitney Houston – Denzel Washington starrer “The Preacher’s Wife.”

“I wrote a completely original story, based on when Hemingway was 18 years old and wounded in World War I,” said Scott. “He wound up next to Henry Villard, who’s still alive and the father of the film’s producer, Dimitri Villard. All of the young people fell in love with the nurse, this woman named Agnes. She broke Hemingway’s heart, and our thesis is that it led him to become the writer he became.”

In real life, Hemingway and the nurse never consummated their desire. But, Scott promises, “They do in the movie.”

New Line is earnestly trying to get its Hemingway project in production by early next year.

Roberts also has become the object of desire for “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” a Ron Bass script that TriStar acquired Oct. 11 for $2 million upfront. That one’s about a woman who discovers she’s actually in love with her fiance’s best friend. Jerry Zucker’s in serious talks to direct the film, which could get under way early next year, same as the Hemingway pic.

Roberts also has to figure out whether she’ll play the Poison Ivy role, possibly alongside Patrick Stewart as Mr. Freeze, in Joel Schumacher’s next installment of “Batman.” And the first draft of the long-awaited Diane English script for the remake of “The Women” is in, and English is working on it with Roberts and Meg Ryan, who are co-producing. That pic calls for Roberts to make $12 million, and estimates are that this next job will land her at least $10 million. Neither New Line nor TriStar would comment.

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