Brosnan offers flow; Silberling finds star

Hours after word leaked that Pierce Brosnan was suddenly available since his film “A Sound of Thunder” would be stalled for rewrites, 007 found himself in the crosshairs of half a dozen other pictures which would be instantly greenlit if he committed to them, sources said.

That shotgun courtship has become not uncommon in the race to lock the last few prestrike projects. Films ranging from big-ticket items like “Basic Instinct 2” to small indies in need of a single star to untrack financing were chasing the handful of stars with open slots, the winners getting greenlights and the losers getting mothballed.

Brosnan wasn’t the only thesp in high courtship. Kate Winslet has also been besieged by offers once it appeared that her planned film, “East of Harlem,” might get pushed past the possible actors strike. But that film seemed very much alive Wednesday, with a major studio ready to step forward and finance the low-cost film, a comedy which chronicles Sheridan’s early days when he arrived from Ireland to New York to open the Irish Arts Theatre.

Other thesps generating buzz have been “Erin Brockovich” costar Aaron Eckhart, who’s now close to a deal to star for “Ulee’s Gold” helmer Victor Nunez in “Coastlines,” an indie drama about a guy who, after taking the fall for a couple of creeps in Louisiana, gets stiffed by them after he comes to collect money due him. Thesps like Julia Stiles and Oscar-nommed Laura Linney have also been overrun with offers. At the same time, many quality projects have quit the chase and are holding their films to post-strike starts. Recent entrants include “The Ringer,” the Farrelly Bros.-produced Barry Blaustein-directed Fox comedy that will star Johnny Knoxville; “First Wives Club 2;” the Andy Tennant-directed Touchstone drama “Sweet Home Alabama,” which chased Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie but will take a fresh shot at a big name actress in the fall. Also looking toward the fall is the untitled Beacon comedy scripted by Charlie Peters that’s based on the early life of George Hamilton and his eccentric mom. Annette Bening is being courted to play her. Beacon and director Richard Loncrain will wait for her.

The continuing attempt to get going on “Basic Instinct 2” continued to be filled with intriguing backstage maneuvers. Sharon Stone didn’t approve as her costar Benjamin Bratt, the young star who’d gotten the thumbs up from director John McTiernan, financier Intermedia, distribber MGM and producers Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna. Stone had been issued a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to accept the actor, because Bratt has other offers waiting.

STROKE OF LUCK: Director Brad Silberling’s long search for an actress to star in “Baby’s In Black” finally ended the moment unknown actress Ellen Pompeo stepped in to audition last week. She’ll join Jake Gyllenhaal, Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman in the Touchstone drama.

Written by Silberling, it concerns the conflicted romance of a young man who, while spending time with his fiancee’s family following her untimely death, suddenly finds himself reluctantly falling in love with another woman. The young man is quickly torn between fulfilling the role of the bereaved he believes he’s meant to be playing, and following his own heart.

Pompeo did the indie film “In the Weeds,” but she’s a newcomer on the studio level who got the role of a young librarian who’s going through her own bereavement over a boyfriend missing in action in Vietnam.

Silberling has spent years looking for the right woman to play the role as he and producer Mark Johnson watched the film get bounced from DreamWorks to Bel Air and Intermedia before Disney topper Peter Schneider fell in love with it.

Strangely, the audition wasn’t the first time Pompeo met her costar, Gyllenhaal. The actor, in fact, approached her two weeks earlier as she sat in a car, to tell her how beautiful he thought she was. They ended the exchange with the generic parting line that maybe they’d work together, though neither realized it would happen that quickly. Pompeo, who’s repped by Glasser/Black Management and Innovative, won’t likely be an unnkown much longer, as she’s reading for the Robert De Niro-Eddie Murphy film “Showtime,” and will read for director Ron Howard as he completes casting on “A Beautiful Mind.”

FORD DOESN’T DO CAMEOS: The notion that Harrison Ford is getting paid $25 million for 20 days of work on the Intermedia-financed Fox drama “K-19: The Widowmaker” made a swell front page cover of the New York Post, and then got picked up by media around the world. The only problem, said Ford’s longtime rep Patricia McQueeney, is that the story is completely false.

He’s getting paid that much, for sure, but McQueeney denied he was giving part-time commitment. “It’s a total fabrication,” said McQueeney. “Harrison has been working on the script and casting for three months, he travelled to London with the director to meet with Tom Stoppard before he came in and did a rewrite. The shoot is four and one-half months long, and he’s working every single day.”

Ford, she said, will also be involved in postproduction chores and will beat the promotional drum when the film gets released. “He likes to be fully involved, which is the reason he usually doesn’t do more than one movie a year.” Ford’s hands-on approach during the scripting phase was well-documented on “Traffic.” Even though he didn’t wind up playing the drug czar, Ford asked for many changes in the character, and they prompted Michael Douglas to take the role.

GETTING IN FOCUS: With expectations high that Greg Kinnear will star as “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane, the Propaganda-produced “Auto Focus” has suddenly become a hot project. The film chronicles Crane’s obsession with the seamy world of sex, and it’s being produced by Propaganda’s Pat Dollard with Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the duo behind such biopics as “People Vs. Larry Flynt” and the Andy Kaufman pic “Man on the Moon.”

The project exists because the duo’s agent passed along an over-the-transom proposal to do a Crane pic by a writer named Mike Gerbosi. “It was out of the blue, but we were intrigued that he’d gone to so much trouble that we met with him,” said Karaszewski. “We became fascinated by the story, wound up doing a treatment with him. He wrote the script and we’re out to directors with Greg attached. It’s less about Crane’s biography as the star of ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ as it is this obsession that got him entwined with a video technician named Johnny Carpenter. He wound up in this spiral of strip clubs, decadence and immorality.”

Crane was murdered in 1978, his skull crushed with a camera tripod. Carpenter was accused of the crime but acquitted after an eight-week trial, as little hard evidence was presented. Alexander and Karaszewski, meanwhile, have finished the first script draft of the Marx Brothers movie they’ll direct for Jersey and Universal, and are working on a second pass.

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