‘Nixon’ the one for Penn

Monsoon gets feet wet with reality-based pic

Sean Penn will star in “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” to be helmed by tyro director Niels Mueller, co-author of Miramax’s recent Gary Winick pic “Tadpole.”

Project marks the first production of Monsoon Entertainment, a shingle run by Alfonso Cuaron, Jorge Vergara and Arnaud Duteil. Monsoon will finance the pic, with production slated for April.

Gotham-based Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente, who brought the pic to Monsoon, will produce via their Open City Films banner. Alexander Payne (“Election”) will exec produce along with Cuaron, Vergara and Duteil.

Mueller and Kevin Kennedy penned the script. Based on real events, “Assassination” is the story of a salesman in 1974 who, while pursuing the American dream and finding himself at the end of his rope, takes very desperate measures to make his mark.

Kliot and Vicente had been shopping the project for several years, with such producers as Cary Woods and Francis Ford Coppola variously attached to make it before Monsoon stepped up to the plate.

“Alfonso, Jorge and I are proud to initiate production at Monsoon with such a powerful project and the amazing talent of Sean Penn,” Duteil said.

“This is one of the best scripts Jason and I have ever read,” added Vicente, who with partner Kliot has produced such pics as “Lovely and Amazing,” “Three Seasons” and “Chuck and Buck.”

Senator takes it o’seas

ICM’s Bart Walker packaged the project. Senator Films is expected to handle international sales.

ICM reps Mueller.

Penn, repped by CAA and Brian Gersh at the Talent Entertainment Group, next stars in “Mystic River,” to be helmed by Clint Eastwood for Warner Bros. He then will segue to “21 Grams,” to be directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Focus Films.

Prexy-chief operating officer Duteil runs Monsoon, owned by director Cuaron (“Y tu mama tambien”) and entrepreneur Vergara (producer of “Y tu mama tambien”).

Monsoon also includes dark comedy “The Speed Queen,” to be directed by and starring Christina Ricci.

Frosh friendship

Open City Films has a long history of working with first-time directors and an impressive track record securing distribution for its films. It has had pics at Sundance seven years in a row.

Among the titles produced by Open City and its digital division, Blow Up Pictures, are Kris Issacson’s “Down to You,” a co-production with Miramax, and Tony Bui’s Sundance winner “Three Seasons,” an October Films release.

Open City’s most recent project is the film version of Anne Nelson’s post-Sept. 11 play “The Guys,” directed by Jim Simpson and starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, currently in post-production. The shingle produced current Lions Gate release “Lovely and Amazing.”

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