Saving Par’s Ryan: Affleck called in

After Harrison Ford declined to take the role of Jack Ryan for a third time, it seemed that the franchise might come to a halt, but Paramount Pictures is working quickly toward a deal with Ben Affleck to replace him.

Affleck would take over the role of the CIA analyst in “The Sum of All Fears,” the Tom Clancy bestseller that was adapted by Akiva Goldsman and rewritten by Paul Attanasio specifically for Ford. The drama pits Ryan against terrorists who plan to nuke the Super Bowl in hopes of starting a war against Russia.

Source said everything is contingent on Affleck making a deal, but the script will likely be reworked. It’s unclear whether Philip Noyce will return. The helmer directed Ford in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” and was ready to do his third film with Ford this fall.

Since Ford is the most successful movie franchise star of this era, his absence was a blow to the studio. Still, Par and producer Mace Neufeld’s courtship of Affleck makes some sense, since Ford didn’t originate the Ryan role.

Alec Baldwin starred in “The Hunt for Red October,” but declined to star in the first sequel, preferring to star in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway.

When Ford decided not to go forward with “Sum of All Fears,” Paramount was on the hook for millions of dollars in book rights and scripting fees — wasted money if the project were abandoned. Affleck’s age and youthful draw makes it possible to draw a new audience to the series, which can go on for numerous installments if audiences buy him in the part. Affleck’s repped by CAA.

ABC TAKES ‘WALK’: ABC and the Avnet-Kerner Co. have made a deal to turn Bill Bryson’s bestseller “A Walk in the Woods” into a TV movie.

Bryson’s book, which was published by Broadway and has been on the bestseller list for 46 weeks, concerns his return to his native America after spending 20 years in England as a celebrity. To reconnect, Bryson took an equally out-of-shape pal and tried to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Avnet-Kerner senior veep Sue Reiner brought in the book, which was sold by William Morris agent Bill Contardi with lit agent Jed Mattes.

HENSON, DISNEY GO FOR ‘HELMSTAR’: In a deal worth mid-six figures against $1 million, Disney and the Henson Co. have optioned “Helmstar,” a pitch by screenwriter Gavin Scott for a project that takes Dark Ages figures like Vikings, mixes them with magic and sorcery, and then sets them in a new venue.

The plot of the film, which will be shepherded by Henson execs Christine Belson and Lisa Henson, is being kept a closely guarded secret. It will be scripted by Scott, who hatched “Small Soldiers” as a spec script, and whose credits include “The Borrowers” and the currently shooting TNT pic “Mists of Avalon.” Scott was represented by Jordan Bayer and Matt Leipzig of Original Artists.

SHAKESPEARE’S NEW SHAKE: William Shakespeare is getting another movie moment. “Macbeth” is being retold in “Scotland, PA,” which has just begun production in Nova Scotia.

The pic, produced by Abandon Pictures with Paddy Wagon Prods., toplines James LeGros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken, Kevin Corrigan, James Rebhorn, Tom Guiry, Andy Dick and Amy Smart. Written and directed by Billy Morrisette, the pic places Shakespeare’s tale of guilt and betrayal in the unlikely background of a fast-food eatery in the early ’70s. Walken plays a detective investigating the murder of the local restaurateur, and focuses on Joe “Mac” McBeth (LeGros) and his ambitious wife (Tierney) who bought the eatery and turned it into a fast-food mecca.

Paddy Wagons’ Richard Shepard and Jon Stern are producing, with Abandon’s Karen Lauder and Marcus Ticotin exec producing.

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