After a wobbly beginning, Universal Pictures has set an April start for Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors” and has completed its deal with John Travolta. Emma Thompson is still negotiating on the picture.

Meanwhile, “Slingblade’s” Billy Bob Thornton is set to play the James Carville-inspired character, and the film-maker is zeroing in on a deal for Kathy Bates to join the roman a clef about Bill Clinton’s campaign to win the White House in 1992. Mykelti Williamson is also expected to join the cast. Jack Nicholson will not be joining the cast, as his fees were considered prohibitive.

The studio and the filmmaker were able to shave the budget down from $75 million to $65 million because both Nichols and Travolta (playing the candidate), who has a pay-or-play deal, deferred part of their upfront fees (Daily Variety, Jan. 10). The push is on to whittle the budget down even more, sources said.

Thornton will star as Richard Jemmons, a key political strategist described as a fast-talking good ol’ boy who serves as the creative energy behind the scenes.

Bates would play Libby Holland, a loudmouthed lesbian who digs up a little bit too much dirt on the candidate.

Nichols’ longtime collaborator Elaine May is adapting “Primary Colors” from the book by Newsweek columnist Joe Klein.

The project will go before the cameras the third week in April.

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