Italo star heading ‘West’

ROME — After directing and starring in major national hits three years running, including the record-breaking “The Cyclone” and current smash “Fireworks,” Italy’s reigning box office champion, Leonardo Pieraccioni, has announced he will take a year’s hiatus from directing to don a Stetson and cowboy boots.

Pieraccioni’s sole film commitment for 1998 will be the leading role in a feature to be directed by his regular screenwriting partner, Giovanni Veronesi, titled “Il Mio West” (My West).

A Western in a melancholy comic key, the film will shoot in the Tuscan countryside and will be co-scripted by Veronesi and Pieraccioni. The latter will play a pacifist, small-town medic whose marriage to an Indian woman causes him to be looked upon with suspicion by the locals.

The Veronesi pic will be Pieraccioni’s first acting job for another director since becoming a nationally popular figure overnight with his 1995 debut feature, “The Graduates.” That sleeper hit was followed at Christmas 1996 by the $44 million grosser “The Cyclone” — Italy’s all-time highest earner — and this fall by “Fireworks,” which has chalked up takings of more than $35 million in less than four weeks.

Veronesi is wrapping post-production on “Viola Kisses Everyone,” a comic road movie starring Asia Argento, Valerio Mastandrea, Rocco Papaleo and Massimo Ceccherini, which the Cecchi Gori Group will release domestically in January. CGG also will produce “Il Mio West.”

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