Gyllenhaal, Maguire, Hedlund in contention

The hunt for the new face of Universal’s Bourne franchise is heating up.

Writer-director Tony Gilroy has been in town this week meeting with several actors vying to play the new lead character in “The Bourne Legacy,” which is not Jason Bourne but a new assassin with a similar background. The list of thesps includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Garrett Hedlund, Taylor Kitsch and Kellan Lutz, sources close to the process tell Variety. Universal had no comment.

Insiders add that Gilroy has an idea of what kind of actor he wants but that U has also brought its picks to the table.

Insiders stress that no front-runner has emerged. Lesser-known actors could become a factor because Gilroy wants to screen-test all candidates — which may be a stumbling block for some established thesps.

No other casting decisions are likely to be made until the lead is set, lending the search some urgency if production is to begin in the spring as planned.

The focus on a new character will allow for the possibility that Matt Damon could return to the franchise in some fashion.

With a number of high-profile studio pics recently settling their male leads — including Warner Bros.’ “Superman: Man of Steel,” Fox’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and Universal’s “Dark Tower” — the top role in the next incarnation of the Bourne franchise has become the new must-get part among Hollywood’s young leading men.

“The Bourne Identity” (2002), 2004′s “The Bourne Supremacy” and 2007′s “The Bourne Ultimatum” grossed almost $1 billion combined at the worldwide B.O. Pics, based on Robert Ludlum novels, revolved around a trained assassin with amnesia who tries to uncover his identity while evading other killers and government agents.

Gilroy wrote all three films; Doug Liman directed the first installment, Paul Greengrass the latter two.

Universal is targeting an August 2012 release for “Bourne Legacy.”

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