Hoffmann nabs ‘Flawless’; more Seuss on loose

“FLAWLESS” DRAG: Philip Seymour Hoffman has landed a big part opposite Robert De Niro in “Flawless,” the MGM film which Joel Schumacher will direct from his own script this fall in New York.

Hoffman has a role as large as De Niro, and they appear together in nearly every scene. The downside is he’ll have to do it in a dress. He plays a drag queen/voice teacher who teaches singing to De Niro’s gruff retired security guard who’s vocalizing to recover from a stroke. The unlikely duo gradually find common ground and form a bond.

A drag turn falls in nicely with the quirky characters Hoffman seems to thrive on. Hoffman, soon to be seen as a drunken, sexually frustrated prank phone caller in the Todd Solondz-directed “Happiness,” made his last strong impression as the Dirk Diggler-obsessed lackey in “Boogie Nights.”

“I first saw him when he played the bad kid in ‘Scent of a Woman,’ ” said Schumacher, “and kept my eye on him ever since.

“When I pulled out of ‘Runaway Jury’ and wrote this script and got a yes from De Niro, it became a long search for the right person to play the drag queen. I investigated real drag queens, and indeed all the rest of the drag queens will be genuine. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is his part is equal to De Niro and it’s essentially two great actors in a room talking. It doesn’t matter that the other person it wearing a dress, the main requirement is he’s skilled enough to be in a room with De Niro. Philip is.”

Hoffman’s negotiations dragged because he’d already pacted to star with Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But schedules were worked out so that Hoffman can do both, and he’ll be in wardrobe today getting fitted for a frock. Not that he has to be a stunner.

“This is not about sweet, adorable and user-friendly drag queens,” said Schumacher. “These are tough street queens who live hard lives in Alphabet City and have been forgotten about and dismissed by the mainstream.”

Hoffman’s repped by Scott Melrose and Michael Lazo of UTA and managed by Davien Littlefield.

CATCH WITH COSTNER: Richard T. Jones has been cast as first baseman opposite Kevin Costner in Universal’s “For the Love of the Game” for director Sam Raimi.

Jones, who just wrapped “The Wood” with Omar Epps and Taye Diggs, plays Davis Burche, Costner’s best friend and confidant. He’s managed by Bonnie Bernstein of InHouse Entertainment, repped by UTA’s Clare Ryu; Robert Offer was Jones’ lawyer on the deal.

DOCTORED SEUSS: On top of Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment paying $5 million plus hefty backend participation for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” they’ll probably pay TriStar $4 million for its languishing Dr. Seuss project just to avoid any conflicts.

The TriStar Seuss, “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” becomes a pricey project that languished for nearly a decade at TriStar. Since it features such recognizable franchise characters as the Cat in the Hat, how could it have stalled so badly?

The main reason is that an original script by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was rewritten so many times that it bore little resemblance to the original and the doctoring of Dr. Seuss left the project largely forgotten about.

Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, who’ve adopted it after chasing the “Grinch” deal, had been unaware that a Geisel script existed. But producer Ben Myron, who originated the project with Roland Joffe back when Mike Medavoy ran TriStar, confirmed the existence of Geisel’s handiwork, which was actually much more than the standard movie script.

“He drew color storyboards for every script page, and he wrote 13 original songs. It is a masterpiece,” said Myron, “and I’m glad someone will finally do it justice. I remember sitting with Theodor and suggesting that he include his other characters,” said Myron. “He looked at his agent, Herb Cheyette, and said, ‘Can I do that?’ Herb said, of course, these are your creations. He said, ‘Oh, great, it’ll be like a party with all my friends.’ Medavoy closed the deal on the spot, and Theodor wrote a script about a boy who doesn’t want to be born, who gets a tour of the good and bad in life by the Cat in the Hat.”

The script got rewritten over and over by scribes that included Richard LaGravanese and Barry Berman (“Benny and Joon”). Latter rewriters were redrafting previous redrafts and didn’t even know there was a Geisel original. Though Geisel envisioned an animated feature musical, Grazer said he and Howard are thinking live action, if negotiations can be completed with TriStar, which has sunk several million dollars into the various script drafts.

But the main priority for Grazer and Howard is “Grinch,” which they won after getting a chance at a second presentation, which outlined Howard as director and Jim Carrey prepared to play the Grinch.

“We’ve all read the Seuss books and the Grinch is the most exciting and multidimensional character which lends itself to a movie,” said Grazer. “And Jim has the raw genius to play him … My partner Ron had put together a creative take years ago, when we were told the rights were unavailable, so he was ready. He’s this easygoing guy but when he talks about a movie he wants to direct, he does it in detailed and vivid filmmaking terms with unique ideas. I think he blew Ron Meyer and Casey Silver and me away just as much as he did Audrey Geisel.”

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