Coens take ‘Cuba Libre’ order

NEW YORK — The “Fargo” team of Joel and Ethan Coen have agreed to adapt “Cuba Libre,” the next novel by Elmore Leonard, sources said. The film was bought by Universal in a seven-figure deal (Daily Variety, April 24), which marked the first project set up at the studio by Brillstein-Grey Entertainment under its overall film and TV deal.

The Coen hires were made by Brillstein-Grey chairman-CEO Brad Grey, who’s producing the film along with Michael Siegel. Joel Coen has made no commitment to direct the pic, but the studio and producers hope the pair will see it through and make it a full-fledged Coen effort, sources said. Ethan Coen traditionally produces the pics his brother helms, usually from a script by the two of them.

The “Cuba Libre” deal marks the first time they’ve agreed to script a project they didn’t originate, though they’ve also considered adapting James Dickey’s “Into the White Sea” at Universal for Brad Pitt.

Siegel, who recently was named co-head of Brillstein-Grey’s motion picture division along with Matthew Baer, brokered Leonard’s book rights deal with Universal.

“Cuba Libre,” which Delacorte will publish in February, harkens back to Leonard’s early days when he wrote Westerns. In this one, an ex-cowboy goes to Cuba to sell arms to insurgents battling for their independence from Spain in the late 1800s just after the Spanish-American War.

A source said it has elements of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with a romance reminiscent of “The English Patient.” But it’s made distinctive by Leonard’s own style.

The Coens recently wrapped production on their latest scripting-directing effort “The Big Lebowski,” with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. They start work on the book almost immediately.

The Coens were showered with Oscar nominations for “Fargo,” even getting a best editing nom for Roderick Jaynes — a pseudonym for the brothers. They won for original screenplay. The Coens are repped by UTA’s Jim Berkus.

Leonard, whose books have landed multimillion-dollar sums and big stars after the success of “Get Shorty,” has two novels currently being made into movies.

Miramax is in production on “Jackie Brown,” Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of “Rum Punch,” with a cast that includes Robert De Niro and Pam Grier. U starts production soon on “Out of Sight,” a contempo crime yarn adapted by “Get Shorty” scribe Scott Frank and starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

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