Stellar list eyeing roles

New Line has made a deal worth about $3 million for the writing and directing services of Andrew Niccol on “River Road,” his new spec script. The writer-director of “Gattaca,” Niccol also penned “The Truman Show.”

Deal comes with Jersey Films triumvirate Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher poised to produce with Niccol. New Line bested several studios by essentially pledging a greenlight for a production start next year.

Deal closely follows the $5 million spec pact Columbia made with writer-director Brian Helgeland for “A Knight’s Tale.”

“River Road” has had studios clamoring since Jersey Films made a deal to be involved with the script after producing “Gattaca” for Niccol and Columbia (Daily Variety, Oct. 18). A heroic escape story set in a border town, “River Road” parallels “The Truman Show” and “Gattaca” in its theme of paranoia — a man is willing to give up everything to escape his environment.

In “River Road,” the protagonist comes to a fictitious border town and is hell-bent on making it across the border. There, his life and aspirations become intertwined with those of the town’s residents.

Niccol, a New Zealand native, entered the business with the aspiration to direct immediately. He sold “The Truman Show” with that intention, but was guaranteed only a director test, and was passed over for Peter Weir when the prospect of Jim Carrey starring surfaced. He directed his script follow-up, “Gattaca,” which didn’t star big names and underperformed at the box office. “River Road” has had several major stars express interest, and could give Niccol the commercial opportunity denied him as a director on “The Truman Show.”

“I was struck by how emotional it was, and what’s amazing about Andrew is that the worlds he creates are always original, but so uplifting and redemptive and about the triumph of human spirit that you cannot help but be drawn into them,” said New Line exec VP Lynn Harris, who bought the film with NL production prexy Michael De Luca. Both will shepherd the project, hoping to start production in the spring or summer.

A-list eyeballs

Partly because “Truman Show” was such a showy role for Jim Carrey, “River Road” has drawn the interest of several major A-list stars, and it appears likely the studio will hook one.

While Jersey has its first-look deal at Universal, the company has a long track record with New Line. That includes “Living Out Loud” and “Feeling Minnesota,” a fight film expected to be DeVito’s next directorial effort.

The “River Road” deal was made by CAA and attorney John LaViolette.

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