Producer nabs screen rights to Graves book

In a $2 million deal, producer Scott Rudin has acquired screen rights to the Robert Graves historical novel “I, Claudius.”

It’s expected that “The Departed” tandem of Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar-winning scribe William Monahan will become attached; they were part of a rival bid made by Warner Bros.

Rudin hasn’t yet set the picture at a studio, but it’s likely to land at Disney — where he has an overall deal — and it could be made in concert with Miramax and Touchstone. Rudin will produce with Alison Owen, with whom he produced “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

Several studios fought for Graves’ famed book about the Roman Empire as told through the eyes of Claudius — a member of the imperial family who hid his brilliance behind a stutter and a limp but wound up outsmarting his rivals to become emperor in 41 A.D. Story ends with the crowning of Nero in 54 A.D. The book featured all the attendant backstabbing, violence and debauchery that was part and parcel of the Roman ruling class.

WB, Universal and Working Title chased the book, and New Line and Sony were also rumored to be in the hunt.

The auction occurred because movie rights that had been held by the BBC and Jim Sheridan lapsed, and RWSH’s Nick Harris brought the book back into the marketplace on behalf of the author’s estate.

The BBC turned Graves’ novel into an Emmy-winning 13-part miniseries in 1976, with Derek Jacobi playing Claudius.

Neither DiCaprio nor Monahan have deals in place, but the actor just worked with Rudin on the DreamWorks drama “Revolutionary Road.”

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