‘Nativity’ born at New Line

Studio snags Rich's spec script

New Line Cinema has launched development of a feature version of the story of the Virgin Mary, buying Mike Rich’s “Nativity” spec script in a pre-emptive purchase.

The move by the studio comes two years after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” — portraying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — stunned Hollywood by grossing more than $600 million worldwide.

New Line hasn’t yet assigned producers to the project. Studio prexy Toby Emmerich, Cale Boyter and Michael Disco are the execs overseeing “Nativity.”

“I think that this story is a natural bookend to ‘The Passion,’ ” said Rich, whose credits include “Finding Forrester,” “Radio” and “The Rookie.” “Everyone knows the basic outline, but it’s also such a timeless story of faith and hope.”

Rich told Daily Variety the script covers the two-year period of Mary and Joseph’s life, culminating in their leaving Nazareth and journeying 100 miles to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Story’s aimed at fleshing out key characters such as King Herod; John the Baptist’s parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth; the shepherds who were witness to Jesus’ birth; and the arrival of the three kings from the Orient.

The inspiration for penning a script came to Rich in late 2004 when he read simultaneous cover stories about the Nativity in Time and Newsweek.

“It seemed to me that although this was a challenging story, it was also really compelling,” he added.

Rich finished the script — penned in English rather than the Aramaic of “The Passion” — last month.

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