Sharon Stone is near a deal to star alongside Billy Connolly (“Mrs. Brown”) in “Beautiful Joe,” a romantic drama that Capitol Films is financing for a June shoot.

The film, produced by Steven Haft and Fred Fuchs, is the story of a luckless guy who plays it safe until he meets a single mom with a dangerous appetite for fast horses and fast living. He becomes bold enough to try to save her from the mob.

The film is written and directed by Stephen Metcalfe, a playwright and screenwriter who’s making his directorial debut. Metcalfe’s credits include the screen adaptation of his play “Jackknife,” as well as “Cousins.”

Stone continues to seek out a variety of screen roles. She just wrapped a small part of a philandering wife who gets diced by her butcher husband (Woody Allen) in “Picking Up the Pieces” and she soon begins an Anne Heche-directed segment of HBO’s “If These Walls Could Talk 2,” starring with Ellen DeGeneres as lesbian lovers. Ahead for Stone is a possible return in her starmaking role as the ice-pick-wielding murderess in the “Basic Instinct” sequel, which has become a top priority project at United Artists — new toppers Alex Yemenidjian and Chris McGurk are planning to personally wine and dine Stone to entice her to sign on, sources said. She’s managed by Chuck Binder and Metcalfe is repped by UTA.

DIAMOND GOING “BATS”: Lou Diamond Phillips has taken the lead in the Destination Films frightfest “Bats,” a thriller in the vein of “The Birds” that will shoot this spring for a Halloween release. Pic also stars Dina Meyer (“Starship Troopers”) and is being directed by Louis Morneau from a script by John Logan (“Any Given Sunday”). Phillips will play the town sheriff.

Phillips has also joined the ensemble cast of “Picking Up the Pieces,” Alfonso Arau’s black comedy for Kushner-Locke. Also starring are Fran Drescher, David Schwimmer, and others. Phillips will next be seen opposite James Spader and Angela Bassett in the scifi pic “SuperNova,” which MGM releases this fall. He’s just wrapped the Wendy Finerman-produced pic “Prince of Mirrors.” He’s repped by Innovative Artists and managed by the Rigberg-Roberts Co.

UA TAKES “ROAD”: United Artists picked up screen rights to “The Road to Eden’s Ridge,” a new novel by Myra McLarey and Linda Weeks. Both are college creative writing teachers who’ve joined forces to write a touching novel about a Maine woman who decides — at the altar on her wedding day — to alter her life path and try to become a country and western singer in Nashville. The novel, which will soon be shopped to publishers, was sold by Sterling Lord Literistic’s Jody Hotchkiss, who’s notched his third screen sale in a tight market after selling “Mrs. Million” to Harold Ramis and Fox and “Confessions of a Window Dresser” to Madonna and New Line. UA’s Lindsay Doran and Ricki Spector made the option.

CASTINGS: “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing has landed the role of Mary Magdalene in the four-hour CBS mini “Jesus,” joining Gary Oldman, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jeroen Krabbe. Directed by Roger Young, the mini shoots in Morocco starting May 17. She’s repped by the Gersh Agency and managers Molly Madden and Jeff Golenberg of 3 Arts… Meg Ryan passed on the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow scifier “Mars,” with Joseph Fiennes negotiating… Robert Forster, Oscar nommed for “Jackie Brown,” continues his resurgence with a plum role in the Peter and Bobby Farrelly-directed “Me, Myself and Irene.” Forster plays the police captain boss of the split personality cop played by Jim Carrey. Forster then will star in “The Altoona Riding Club,” an indie written and directed by Dan Cohen, which Forster will exec produce. Joining him will be his 14-year old daughter Kate in the story of a salesman who must mentor a young replacement when his company downsizes. Forster’s repped by WMA…Marissa Ribisi, the twin sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi, is proving a double threat. With writing partner Shane Edelman, she has gotten a script deal with Nu Image’s Boaz Davidson and Avi Lerner on the spec “The Mail Room.” This comes after she starred in Nu Image’s “Some Girl,” a script she wrote with Brie Shaffer. That film toplines the 24-year old actress as a heartbroken girl on the rebound who falls for a too-good-to-be-true guy. Also appearing in the pic are Juliette Lewis, Michael Rapaport, Jeremy Sisto and brother Giovanni. That pic, directed by Rory Kelly, gets released later this year. Ribisi’s repped by UTA and manager Gay Ribisi…Joey Slotnick, about to be seen in TNT’s “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” has landed a role in the Paul Verhoeven-directed “The Hollow Man.” Slotnick, who’s part of the three-person improvisational stage show Slotnick, Katz and Lerh, is repped by Gersh and managed by Robert Goodman.

DISHINGS: As Endeavor continues to promote assistants into agents, the agency has to continue topping itself with clever ways to surprise its new ten-percenters. Last promotees found out in a staff meeting when window washers outside unfurled a sign telling them they’d been upped. The new batch of agents found out during a staff meeting to which U copresident Kevin Misher was invited to speak. Misher is the brother of Jaime Misher, one of the agents newly minted along with Andrew Elkin and Greg Horangic. While discussing how the companies could work together, the U coprexy announced the promotions to the surprised former assistants. Endeavor meetings are becoming regular laugh riots: an exec held a meeting, only to have his personal messenger interrupt with the delivery of an envelope which the agents were surprised to see contained a protein bar. As the exec began snacking, one of the percentery partners excused himself for a bathroom break, quickly returned, and then, ten minutes later, the meeting was interrupted by an assistant who brought the agent a thickly wrapped package. The agent carefully opened the envelope, and unwound a web of protective bubble wrap to reveal the contents: a container of yogurt and a spoon. Everyone laughed, including the snacking exec.

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