Theron gets close to ‘Joe’

Charlize Theron, who just starred in “Devil’s Advocate” at Warner Bros., is in final negotiations for the lead in Disney’s planned Memorial Day 1998 offering “Mighty Joe Young.” Ron Underwood is directing and Tom Jacobson and RKO chairman Ted Hartley are producing the project. It starts principal photography May 19 in Hawaii and Los Angeles.

Based on the 1949 classic, the new “Mighty Joe Young” is about a 21-year-old farm girl in Africa who is persuaded to perform with her 15-foot-tall gorilla in Las Vegas. The act becomes the most noteworthy animal act in the world before it suddenly goes awry and the animal goes on a rampage in L.A. The script was written by Larry Conner and Mark Rosenthal.

Wolfgang Petersen and Gail Katz will exec produce and Gary Stutman and Mark Lisson are co-executive producers.

The project was set up in March 1995 by Joe Roth and Disney Pictures president David Vogel, and Jacobson signed on to produce this past January. Pre-production started last year with Rick Baker designing the gorilla and DreamQuest in charge of computer graphic imagery. Production on the mammoth project is scheduled to go until October.

Theron, originally from South Africa, was the femme fatale in “2 days in the Valley” and also appeared in “That Thing You Do!” She also is the female lead alongside Jeff Daniels and Michael Richards in New Line Cinema’s “Trial & Error.”

The deal was negotiated by her manager John Crosby, and J.J. Harris and Clar Ryu of United Talent Agency.

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