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McDormand, Kidman in ‘Trade’ negotiations

Oscar nominee Frances McDormand is in serious talks to star in “The Trade,” a drama scripted by Cara Lindstrom and directed by Angela Pope for Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises. The producers are also negotiating for Nicole Kidman to join McDormand in the other female lead role.

Kidman would play a courier who travels the world working for an importer/exporter. She’s beaten and robbed of a cash pickup in Haiti and helped by a woman at her hotel, who’d be played by McDormand. The woman transforms the courier to look like her, allowing her to escape her pursuers, but she’s hardly a good Samaritan. McDormand’s character turns out to be part of some seriously shady dealings herself, and the courier gets caught up in a web of intrigue and murder.

Pope recently directed “Captives,” and the project could be the next for Kidman, now filming Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” and McDormand, who has gotten strong reaction and a slew of critical awards, including the Screen Actors Guild Award for best actress, for her performance as the pregnant policewoman in “Fargo.”

McDormand has several offers before her that she’d likely squeeze around “The Trade,” including one to join Bill Paxton in “The Opposite of Sex,” a comic script by “Single White Female” scribe Don Roos, who plans to make his directing debut on the low-budget pic for Rysher.

Since Kidman will be shooting the Kubrick pic until late summer, “The Trade” might not happen until fall. Kidman also has “Berlin Diaries” on her plate (Daily Variety, March 10). “The Trade” is a co-production between Mirage and Intermedia, and Pollack will produce with William Horberg, Ruth Jackson and Becca Boss.

THE NEXT BIG HYPHENATE?: In between acting gigs, Kathy Bates is honing her skills as a director. The Oscar-winning actress, who debuted behind the camera with an episode of “Homicide,” is currently directing an episode of “NYPD Blue,” and moves right into directing the pilot for the TV adaptation of “Fargo.”

Once she finishes that, Bates moves to a co-starring role in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of “Primary Colors,” playing a boisterous campaign crisis manager. Bates is repped by Susan Smith of Susan Smith and Associates.

CRUISE TAKES FLIER ON TIGER PIC: “Top Gun” star Tom Cruise might be taking to the skies again. There are several competing projects about the famed Flying Tiger troupe of World War II, but Cruise and Paula Wagner’s CW Prods. has just gotten the one that could be a vehicle for Cruise.

CW made a preemptive deal for “Earth, Wings, and Fire,” based on a 35-page outline for a book to be written by military aviation historian Bing Bingham. The deal was done for low six figures, but if the film gets made, Bingham gets producing credit, and his payday could be in the seven-figure range.

The Flying Tigers had the best air combat record in WWII, and the story focuses on the Mozart/Salieri relationship between the troupe’s leader, Claire Lee Chennault, and U.S. Air Force Major Joseph W. Bissell.

Bissell was a World War I flying ace who hated Chennault, especially after the younger man got the nod from President Franklin Roosevelt to let Chennault form his own unit and employ untried battle formations instead of those advocated by Bissell. The strategies worked, but Bissell tried to use his clout and connections to ground the flyboys.

The deal was brokered by Sterling Lord’s Jody Hotchkiss and attorney David Colden of Colden and McKuin.

Cruise also recently became involved with developing “In the Blue Light of African Dreams,” by Paul Watkins, which CW will produce with David Brown, about an aviator’s attempt to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

ANOTHER ELLROY SET UP: James Ellroy, whose novel “L.A. Confidential” was turned into a pic starring Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger, has set up another. Tim Matheson and producer Gary Goetzman (“Silence of the Lambs”) have optioned rights to Ellroy’s detective mystery “Because the Night,” which they’ll jointly produce.

They’ll try to set it up at a studio as the feature directing debut for Matheson, who has cut his teeth on numerous telepics.

The book focuses on a cop’s quest to unravel three murders during a liquor store robbery at the same time a veteran cop disappears.

Matheson and Goetzman have been friends since playing brothers in the films “Divorce American Style” (1967) and “Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968). They’ve wanted to work together, and found a vehicle after they became friendly with Ellroy.

“He’s the modern master of noir, with these highly flawed heroes crusading against evil,” said Matheson of Ellroy. Goetzman, who’s now producing the Jonathan Demme-directed “Beloved” starring Oprah Winfrey, said he’ll try to seal a feature deal shortly.

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