Guillaume Canet, James Gray develop English-language drama

Gallic director-actor Guillaume Canet (“Tell No One”) and U.S. helmer James Gray (“Two Lovers”) are teaming on a U.S.-set thriller that will mark Canet’s English-language directorial debut.

From a screenplay by Canet and Gray, “Rivals” — a working title — is set up at StudioCanal as well as Jean-Baptiste Dupont and Cyril Colbeau-Justin’s Paris-based LGM, producers of Olivier Marchal’s “MR 73,” “36″ and “Gangsters.”

Canet will also co-produce. StudioCanal will finance and package the movie, as well as handle international sales.

Canet may play a small role, he said. His involvement will spark inevitable speculation that his real-life companion Marion Cotillard could be up for one of the femme leads.

“Though the screenplay isn’t finished yet, there looks to be some beautiful female parts,” Canet told Variety.

The thriller is loosely inspired by Jacques Maillot’s 2008 “Les Liens du sang,” said Olivier Courson, StudioCanal chairman-CEO. Set in Lyon’s ’70s underworld, “Liens” starred Canet and Francois Cluzet as a pair of fractious brothers — one a cop, the other an ex-con.

Canet and Gray’s English-language movie is set in the ’70s but transfers the action to Philadelphia.

Despite its inspiration, however, “the film is not really a remake, it’s a completely different story, set in a completely different environment,” Courson said.

Canet said his English-language movie would focus more on the brothers’ relationship. Unlike “Liens,” “Rivals” will be inspired more by the true story on which the former was based, Canet added.

According to Courson, Canet’s film could see StudioCanal linking to a U.S. partner, or be structured as a Canada-Europe co-production.

Project marks just the latest trans-Atlantic link of two crime-drama specialists.

New York-born director, screenwriter and producer Gray already enjoys a close relationship to France, where his first three films, the Gotham-set crime mellers “Little Odessa,” “The Yards” and “We Own the Night,” have given him a Gallic cult following.

Canet’s second film, the suspense thriller “Tell No One,” took $6.2 million Stateside, making it one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films in the U.S. in 2008. Pic was based on a novel by bestselling American author Harlan Coben. Last August, Miramax and Focus Features Intl. took English-language remake rights to Canet’s French adaptation.

Gray and Canet met at a lunch. “It was as if we’d been best friends,” Canet said. “But when James offered to help me out with the screenplay, I thought it was a joke.”

As a director, Canet is finishing the Cotillard starrer “Little White Lies,” produced by Alain Attal’s Les Productions du Tresor for EuropaCorp.

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