Thesp back in cockpit with Par's 'Few'

Tom Cruise, who became a global star in “Top Gun,” wants to return to the skies. He’s taxiing into position to play Billy Fiske, the first American pilot killed fighting the Germans in World War II, in “The Few” for Paramount Pictures.

Michael Mann will direct, and John Logan, who scripted upcoming Cruise starrer “The Last Samurai,” is in talks to write the script, based on a book proposal by Alex Kershaw. Mann’s Forward Pass will produce with Cruise and Cruise-Wagner partner Paula Wagner.

Fiske, an Olympic athlete and fighter pilot who was half-American and half-British, led a small group of American pilots who broke U.S. neutrality rules in the early days of WWII to fight with the British against the Nazis.

In 1940, expert German fighters had decimated the Royal Air Force to the point that there weren’t enough pilots left to fly the Spitfire planes sitting idly in hangars. Unable to rouse the U.S. into action, a desperate Winston Churchill hatched a covert effort to recruit civilian American pilots to join the RAF. Risking prison sentences in the then-neutral U.S., a ragtag bunch of pilots answered the call.

Mann and Cruise each had been looking to do a film involving aviation. Mann previously engaged Logan to write the script for “The Aviator” before he decided to produce and gave the script to Martin Scorsese. That Howard Hughes biopic is in production in Montreal starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett.

Mann got a second shot to take wing when he was slipped Kershaw’s book proposal by British lit agent AP Watt. Mann is about to make his first film with Cruise, the DreamWorks drama “Collateral,” and the star quickly enlisted. Their reps at CAA are making the deal.

Kershaw, who last wrote the WWII saga “The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice,” will write “The Few” for Da Capo Press. His short proposal sparked much interest in Hollywood.

The historical stakes and ferocious dogfights between the overmatched American pilots and the German ace fliers inject “The Few” with “Saving Private Ryan” potential. The project was taken to Paramount because of Cruise-Wagner’s first-look deal there, and the studio was expected to close a deal for the proposal in short order. Logan is expected to begin work after completing “Gladiator 2.”

It is the second significant WWII project deal for CW and Paramount within a week. Cruise and Wagner just inked Peter Weir to helm the Peter Buchman-scripted “The War Magician,” the true story of British magician Jasper Maskelyne and how he used sleight-of-hand to fool the Germans and protect British troops in North Africa.

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