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Focus is on Hemingway’s ‘Have’

Williams to pen, helm adaptation

Universal Focus has made a deal with the estate of Ernest Hemingway to turn “To Have and Have Not” into a thriller that will star Benicio Del Toro. Tod “Kip” Williams (“The Adventures of Sebastian Cole”) will write the script and direct the film, which Del Toro will produce with Laura Bickford.

Even though they’ll be contemporizing Hemingway’s story of a charter boat captain who gets in deep with smugglers, the filmmakers will stick much more closely to the book than did the 1945 Howard Hawks-directed Warner Bros. adaptation. That pic marked the first pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and was dramatically reinterpreted to be more like “Casablanca” than Hemingway’s prose. That distinction allowed the current filmmakers to go directly to the author’s estate, because WB only holds remake rights to that picture.

It marks another literary coup by Williams, who read the book and chased the rights upon realizing Hemingway’s story hadn’t yet been told on film. Move comes after convincing author John Irving (who’d never heard of the young filmmaker) to let him make a film out of the first 183 pages of Irving’s 537-page “A Widow for One Year.” Williams is about to go into production with the result, “Door in the Floor,” which will star Jeff Bridges and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Williams brought the idea to Del Toro and Bickford, who did “Traffic” together and are producing a Che Guevara biopic Del Toro will star in for director Steven Soderbergh. It turned out that Hemingway was one of Del Toro’s favorite authors, and he sparked to the adaptation idea.

With producer Jane Rosenthal, Bickford is also developing a remake of the Japanese film “Chaos”; “Sexy Beast” helmer Jonathan Glazer will direct, with Del Toro to star with Robert De Niro.

Keys smuggler

In “To Have and Have Not,” Del Toro will play a fisherman in the Florida Keys who isn’t making enough money to feed his family and out of desperation becomes involved with unsavory smugglers. It is likely that the Caribbean will be the focal point of the smuggling.

Focus proved the perfect fit for the property. It is the same entity that marketed “Traffic,” and Bickford has her deal at Universal. Williams has a close relationship with new Focus heads James Schamus and David Linde after developing “Door in the Floor” at Good Machine. That film is being produced by Schamus and Linde’s former partner Ted Hope. Williams is repped by WMA.

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