Pollack on mission to reinvent shingle

This article was corrected on April 15, 2003.

In what could be his first directing assignment since 1999’s “Random Hearts,” Sydney Pollack is likely to helm “The Interpreter,” a thriller about a U.N. interpreter, for Universal Pictures, Working Title and Misher Films.

Pic is skedded for a fall or winter start.

The assignment comes at a critical time for Pollack, who is juggling an ambitious production slate at Mirage Enterprises, the transatlantic production shingle he runs with Anthony Minghella.

It’s a slate that lacks a sugar daddy.

Mirage’s first-look deal with Intermedia lapsed in October. Pollack and Minghella, now in post-production on “Cold Mountain,” set for release via Miramax Films in December, are covering overhead for the company’s Beverly Hills and London offices.

Mirage’s three senior execs — David Rubin, Geoff Stier and William Horberg — have ankled. Horberg, who is producing “Cold Mountain,” had been at Mirage since 1992.

Rumors that Mirage is folding have swirled around Pollack in recent months. He’s eager to dispel the notion.

Full slate

Sitting in his office on Beverly Drive, just back from a bicycle trip through Cambodia and Myanmar, surrounded by trophies from his four-decade career as director, producer and actor, Pollack displayed his usual robust enthusiasm. He ticked through his producing slate, which is chock-a-block with new deals and developments:

  • “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” a comedy based on Allison Pearson’s bestselling novel. Mirage will produce the pic for Miramax Films. Kevin Wade is writing the script.

  • “Margaret,” a coming-of-age love story that Kenneth Lonergan will direct from his own screenplay. Mirage, which is shopping the project to studios, hopes to begin shooting in September in New York.

  • “Liberty,” a comedy written by brothers Jez and John Henry Butterworth (“Birthday Girl”). Pollack is in discussions with Nicole Kidman to star in the pic, which Mirage is producing for Intermedia.

  • “Triage,” a feature set in New York that director Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”) is adapting from a novel by Scott Anderson. Mirage will produce the pic with the BBC.

  • “The Lover’s Wife,” the first American film by Daniele Thompson (who wrote and directed French pics “Jet Lag” and “La Buche”). Judy Roberts will write the script with Thompson. Mirage, which is producing the pic for New Line, hopes to shoot it in spring 2004.

  • “The Assumption,” the story of the romance between 15th-century Italian priest-painter Fra Lippo Lippi and a nun who posed for him, starring Juliette Binoche. Richard Eyre is directing the pic for Mirage and Icon. It will be produced in partnership with Go Films, which is run by Minghella’s wife, Carolyn Choa.

  • “Colombian Gold,” a love story set in the world of money laundering, which Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”) is directing from a script by Tom Pabst. Pic, based on a New Yorker article, is set up at Universal Pictures.

  • “Turtle Park,” a political thriller set in Washington being written by Richard Taylor and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg.

Pollack may produce “The Interpreter,” which is based on a script by Charles Randolph.

It’s the story of a U.N. interpreter, who claims to have overheard a plot to kill an African dictator, and the secret service agent assigned to investigate her claim.

Pollack has had several meetings on the project and is expected to take the directing job. But there is already a roster of producers developing the pic, which is likely to include Kevin Misher and Working Title’s Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Liza Chasin.

Shepherding the project at Universal are production prexy Scott Stuber and VP Dylan Clark.

Pollack, who declined to talk about the negotiations, has sustained a dual career as a producer and director since the 1970s, but he’s been slow to return to the director’s chair.

Pollack is famously noncommittal about his directing choices. A year ago, he flirted with the adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” which Scott Rudin is producing for Paramount. But he told Daily Variety he opted not to helm that project after disagreeing with Rudin over the development process.

Pollack also has a new set of reps. Last May, after a two-year stint at UTA, he returned to CAA. (Latter agency has long repped Mirage.) Like a number of Michael Ovitz’s former clients, he also left AMG for the Firm last year when the Firm acquired most of AMG’s assets.

Adult movies

Pollack’s hesitation to take his next directing job may be traced in part to his sensibilities, which, in franchise-hungry Hollywood, are something of a throwback. Pollack tends to be interested only in high-caliber stories with adult themes — a genre that nowadays occupies a tiny niche on studio slates.

As one producer puts it, “There aren’t that many scripts being developed at studios that would be of an ilk that interests Sydney. He doesn’t make cartoons.”

How Pollack will find time to develop an ambitious production slate while prepping his next directing assignment is another question.

Remaining at Mirage is an L.A.-based development exec, Laurie Webb, and the London-based producer, Bruna Papandrea. Many of its projects have co-producers at other companies, including Horberg, who left Mirage to set up his own shingle at DreamWorks, Wonderland Films, but remains involved in a handful of its pics.

But the Mirage slate will also require some heavy lifting from Pollack, a hands-on producer known to take a deep interest in the casting, scripting and post-production process.

The most high-profile Hollywood company run jointly by two directors, Mirage is a uniquely collaborative enterprise. Pollack noted that the arrangement comes with certain risks. “It’s not easy for directors to run production companies,” he said. “It’s hard to be a resource for someone else’s vision and manage a production as well as you would your own.”

Minghella will have his own distractions in the coming months. He’ll be occupied with “Cold Mountain” through the fall, and has just assumed the chairmanship of the British Film Institute.

Pollack said he expects to hire additional help on a per-picture basis.

“These are concrete, go films,” he said of Mirage’s development slate. “I’ve had the company for 17 years. We’ve done 25 films. Most of the time, I’ve been directing.”

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