Coens eye ‘Intolerable’ pic

Clooney close to signing up; Roberts a prospect

NEW YORK — Joel and Ethan Coen are negotiating to make their next film the Universal black comedy “Intolerable Cruelty,” with the duo plotting a reteam with their “O Brother, Where Art Thou” star George Clooney.

The project will be directed by Joel Coen and produced by Ethan Coen, who’ll join Brian Grazer, Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel in what is shaping up as a co-production between Imagine and Alphaville.

As Clooney closes in, speculation is rife that the studio will attempt to land Julia Roberts to join him. Thesps just completed “Ocean’s Eleven” for helmer Steven Soderbergh.

Clooney is in talks for the role of a Hollywood divorce lawyer who finds himself the target of revenge by a client’s ex-wife. Along the way, the inevitable romantic sparks commence.

Over the past four years, “Intolerable Cruelty” has come close to a start several times, and it has been a magnet for A-list elements. Ron Howard and Andrew Bergman are among the directors who developed it. Most recently Jonathan Demme seemed poised to make the film with Hugh Grant and Tea Leoni. Later, he organized a script reading that was to include Will Smith, with whom he has long wanted to work. That reading didn’t happen and Demme has departed.

The Coens have a long history with the project as well. They were brought in years ago to rewrite the original script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone. While other versions of the script have been commissioned since, the parties kept returning to the version that has the kind of dark bite a Coen script tends to possess.

The Coens never got more serious than screenwriters, however, because they were committed to directing Brad Pitt in “To the White Sea.” When that film fell apart, the producers and the studio moved to lock in the siblings, who had enjoyed working with Clooney and were seeking to do another project with the actor.

Clooney, who’s working on his directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” for Miramax, is repped by CAA; UTA reps the Coens.

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