Redford putts Smith in ‘Vance’

Damon eyeing course

Will Smith is teeing up to star in Robert Redford’s “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

The period drama is the story of a war hero and local golfer from Georgia, Rannulph Junah, who manages to compete against the nation’s top pros while receiving advice and guidance from a black caddie.

Matt Damon may join Smith in the pic; he began seriously considering playing Junah last month (Daily Variety, July 27). Smith is still in negotiations, too. His deal is expected to close in time for the movie to begin shooting in Savannah in October.

“Bagger Vance” is being produced by Wildwood Enterprises’ Redford and Michael Nozik, and Allied Filmmakers’ Jake Eberts. Eureka, Icon Entertainment Intl. and DreamWorks are co-financing the $70 million production.

Eureka’s Beta Theatrical Motion Pictures holds continental European rights to the pic, Icon holds U.K. rights and DreamWorks has North America. Eureka is a buying alliance between Germany’s Kirch Group and Italy’s Mediaset.

The film went through a number of different financing and distribution structures before settling into its current split-rights set-up. Script, by Jeremy Leven, is based on the 1995 novel by Steven Pressfield.

Redford originally had cast himself in the role of Junnah, but then withdrew in favor of someone younger. Brad Pitt toyed with the role, but ultimately passed.

Sources said Smith’s interest was galvanized by the dramatic nature of the pic and the actor’s desire to work with Redford. “Bagger Vance” would also be a contrast to the string of action-oriented pics that Smith has completed in the past few years, including “Wild Wild West,” “Enemy of the State” and “Men in Black.”

Smith and Damon are repped by CAA.

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