Gordon and Franco to produce

Thesps Laura Dern, Chris Cooper and Natalie Canerday are set to co-star in “Rocket Boys,” which is being produced by Chuck Gordon and Larry Franco.

Universal Pictures will distribute the modest-budgeted pic, which began lensing Monday in eastern Tennessee under Joe Johnston’s helm.

Dern, Cooper and Canerday join the young cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg and Chris Owen.

Gyllenhaal stars as a young man vying for his father’s (Cooper) attention, who bands with his friends to build a rocket in a small mining town during the late 1950s. Canerday, who recently co-starred in “Sling Blade,” will play the boy’s mother and Dern will play a teacher who aids the boys with their endeavors.

Lewis Colick scripted the film from Homer Hickum’s autobiographical book, which will be published next fall by Delacorte.

Dern’s recent credits include “Citizen Ruth,” “Jurassic Park,” “A Perfect World” and “Rambling Rose” (for which she earned an Oscar nom).

A staple of John Sayles’ films, Cooper has co-starred in “Lone Star,” “City of Hope” and “Matewan,” as well as “A Time to Kill” and “Great Expectations.”

Canerday’s other feature credits include “One False Move” and “Biloxi Blues.”

In addition to “Rocket Boys,” Gordon also is developing for a 1998 start the actioner “Blades,” with Kirk Wong attached to helm; the presidential aide-out-of-water comedy “The Tree”; and the big-budget actioner “Black Rock,” to which Jan De Bont is attached to helm. All three films are for Universal.

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