THESPS WANTED: As predicted in Dish last month, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and director Stephen Hopkins have gotten an official May start date for their film “Under Suspicion,” after “Varsity Blues” scribe Peter Iliff turned in a rewrite.Now, they’re looking for a few good actors. The principals all cut their prices to make possible a modestly budgeted TF1-financed remake of the French film “Gare de Vue.” Freeman plays a police interrogator trying to coax a confession out of a prominent lawyer (Hackman) who’s top suspect in a series of murders in the tropics. Freeman, who produces with Revelations Ent. partner Lori McCreary and Anne Marie Gillen, said he’s talking “to my actor friends to fill out these roles the right way.” Hopkins wants costars the caliber of his topliners. “Under Suspicion” is way under the budgets of the helmer’s last two pics, “Lost In Space” and “Ghost and the Darkness.” It was a deliberate course change. “It’s fun to make piles of money, but you end up feeling like you’re running a corporation,” Hopkins said. “I wanted to extend myself a bit, after feeling in danger of becoming an action director with the potential to be an artist.” Hopkins said Hackman chased remake rights to the film for a decade, and Revelations got TF1 to pony up the budget for foreign rights, with Revelations looking to broker domestic. The original is still remembered in France, if for bizarre reasons. “It played like a sparse docudrama like a lot of ’70s films, but the star, Romy Schneider, was a huge icon in France, and a few days after her character committed suicide, the actress did as well,” said Hopkins. That storyline has been changed in the remake, and Hopkins will shoot it before moving on to an equally offbeat project: a biopic of 1950s stripper Candy Bar, who wound up in pinstripes for stripping. Carol Wolper’s writing the script and Industry Ent. will produce. Freeman’s repped by William Morris, Hackman by CAA, and Hopkins by Industry’s Geyer Kosinski and ICM. RANKIN READIES OTHER TOONS: When the animated adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “The King and I” is released by Morgan Creek Prods. and Warner Bros. next month, it will mark five years since Arthur Rankin Jr. made the deal with the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization after vacationed in Thailand and coming back convinced the country held great visual potential for an animated film. Since “King” is the first major Broadway musical to be turned into an animated feature, Rankin and the R&H Org are cautiously optimistic it will work, but they are also considering others that might follow, such as “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music.” But R&HO spokesman Bert Fink stressed that they want to see the film and its box office fortunes before trying again. “It was an artistic risk worth making to expose young audiences to the material, and we admire Arthur’s notion of deciding that instead of giving a picture a Broadway-caliber score, to actually give it a Broadway score,” said Fink. “But it’s too early to talk about others.” Rankin is best known for partnering with Jules Bass in directing, writing and designing dozens of holiday annuals such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Times have changed dramatically since them. “I remember coming to see Michael Eisner, who was in charge of specials and children’s programming at ABC, and opening a briefcase that played ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.’ That was all he had to hear. He said, ‘Go do it, it better be ready for the holidays and it had better be good.’ On this film, I think I’ve had to deal with more agents, lawyers and studio executives than I did on all those other films combined,” Rankin recalled. Rankin partnered on the project with Morgan Creek’s Jim Robinson and Warner Bros., and is optimistic the film will perform when it opens March 19. Naturally, Rankin said, his old TV ally Eisner won’t make it easy; Disney has put the animated “Doug’s 1st Movie,” based on the Disney-owned cartoon series, up against it March 26. “There’s no way Michael will leave us by ourselves for Easter; my old friend will be trying to kill me,” said Rankin. CASTINGS: Nic Cage has spent the past week mulling an offer to star for Wolfgang Petersen in the Warner Bros. adaptation of Sebastian Junger’s bestseller “The Perfect Storm”… Actor Dan Futterman has inked a lucrative series development deal at Fox for a comedy or drama. A veteran of stage work that includes “Angels in America” and films that include “The Birdcage” and “Shooting Fish,” Futterman is managed by Eric Kranzler and agented by Gersh’s Larry Taube … Jeffrey Wright plays a narc and murder suspect in the Imagine Sylvester Stallone-starrer “Detox,” the drama set in a rehab center for traumatized cops in which the patients are getting bumped off one by one. The CAA-repped Wright, best known for “Basquiat,” will next be seen in Ang Lee’s “Ride With the Devil.”
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