Shooting skedded for November, release in late 2001

Tobey Maguire is in final negotiations to play the title role in “Spider-Man,” Columbia’s live-action film based on the Marvel Comics franchise.

Maguire, who will sign a pay-or-play deal in the range of $3 million to $4 million for the first film with options for richer back-end deals for two sequels, will play cub photographer Peter Parker, who is turned into a crimefighting wall-crawling superhero after being bitten by a radioactive arachnid.

Filming on the first installment will begin in New York and on the Sony soundstages in November, expected for release by November 2001.

The deal cuts through the web of intrigue that surrounded the search for the young superhero, which ensnared some of the top young thesps in Hollywood. Director Sam Raimi had favored Maguire throughout the search process (Daily Variety, April 13). But while no one doubted that Maguire had the acting chops and gentle demeanor needed to play Peter Parker — attested to by a string of critically-lauded films including “The Cider House Rules,” “Wonder Boys,” “The Ice Storm” and “Pleasantville” — Col studio brass were somewhat reluctant, given that Maguire is not the first actor who springs to mind when thinking of adrenaline-pumping, tail-kicking titans.

But when Maguire, who was initially reluctant to test, finally donned the webslinger’s vestments, execs were surprised by the 25-year old’s newly buff, aerobicized form. The studio signed off on him as its choice late Friday, and negotiations began immediately.

With Fox’s adaptation of Marvel’s other signature franchise “X-Men” leaping past $120 million in domestic B.O. gross (and with a sequel already in the works), anticipation has been higher than ever on “Spider-Man,” a franchise once coveted by James Cameron, until it became entangled in litigation for almost a decade. Cameron’s lengthy screen treatment served as the basis for the story scripted by David Koepp (“The Lost World”). Later, a rewrite by Scott Rosenberg (“Gone in 60 Seconds”) was commissioned.

“Spider-Man” will be produced by Sony-based producer Laura Ziskin, as well as by Ian Bryce, and Marvel CEO Avi Arad. Matt Tolmach, Columbia’s executive veepee of production, will supervise the pic for the studio.

Maguire is repped by the Gersh Agency and attorney Steve Warren, and is managed by Eric Kranzler of Industry Entertainment.

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