MOSTOW INKS DEAL AT U

NEW YORK — Writer-director Jonathan Mostow, coming off the Kurt Russell hit “Breakdown,” has signed a first-look deal at Universal to direct as well as produce movies. He’s bringing a project into the deal, and taking on another that was long in development.

Mostow’s writing with John Bishop a historical military drama that might be his next assignment. At the same time, he’ll team with “Swingers” scribe-star Jon Favreau on “Leatherheads.” That film, about the formation of the National Football League, was originally developed with Steven Soderbergh. U hopes to fast-track it with Mostow quarterbacking.

“The Universal deal wasn’t something I was looking for, but their proposal was something I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “A frustration of being a director is you don’t have time to do all the great scripts that pass through your hands. In this deal, I can stay involved in some of the films I don’t direct, as producer.”

For Mostow, the success of “Breakdown” marked the end of several frustrating years that followed a promising 1991 debut film, “Flight of Black Angel.” “It made me the flavor of the week, and I got involved with terrific projects but I was unable to get good casts,” Mostow said. Those included “The Game,” which Michael Ferris and John Brancato wrote. The film eventually came together under David Fincher.

Mostow credited Russell and producer Dino De Laurentiis for sticking with him through “Breakdown,” which has radically changed perceptions. “It has opened doors for me with both scripts and actors, in being able to cast my films.”

He was slipped “Leatherheads” by U exec veep Kevin Misher, and fell for the concept. U’s been huddling on the project for years, since it got an original draft by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Paul Attanasio took a crack at the draft for Soderbergh. Favreau wrote the most recent version.

“It’s set in 1926, when college football was the same as now, but pro football was like mudwrestling — dirty and sleazy,” said Mostow. “They were coal miners and longshoremen who didn’t practice and got together for an hour a week to very violently beat the crap out of each other for $50 a game.” Because of the vivid action, Mostow described the film as “Braveheart” on a football field.

Favreau, who’s currently starring in the Mimi Leder-directed “Deep Impact,” will play a supporting role in the film, said Mostow. Now that he’s got stars seeking him out, Mostow hopes the U deal puts him into big-budget mainstream fare — as long as it’s smart.

He admits he had an unfair advantage in making the “Breakdown” plot seamless because he had years to work on the script and spent long hours with Russell making sure the character’s moves and the cat-and-mouse developments were plausible. The same, he felt, can not be said for every studio action film.

“I find myself walking out of theaters, frustrated, to see that all the efforts have gone into marketing and when it comes to game day, the films themselves are a letdown,” he said.

Mostow’s repped by CAA’s Ken Stovitz, who made the overall deal with U pic chairman Casey Silver and Misher.

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