‘Simon’ summons Willis, Becker to U

NEW YORK — Bruce Willis is close to a deal to star in the Universal drama “Simple Simon,” with shoot-ing starting in April, sources said. Though Barry Sonnenfeld had once been expected to direct, sources said he’s dropped from the film, as he’ll be preoccupied with finishing “Men in Black” and couldn’t be ready for the spring start that Universal and Imagine Entertainment are eyeing.

Universal, Willis and producers Brian Grazer and Joseph Singer have been in discussions with Harold Becker, the director of such films as “Malice” and “City Hall.” Sources said the director and Willis will meet early this week, and a deal could be in place shortly. Becker recently joined the William Morris Agency, where Arnold Rifkin rep-resents Willis. Becker’s now agented by John Burnham.

If a deal can be sealed, Willis is now at $20 million a picture, he’ll play an FBI agent on the run with an autistic child. The emotionally isolated agent discovers a kinship with the kid. It’s based on a Ryne Pearson novel, and the script, penned by Larry Konner and Mark Rosenthal, has attracted the attention of several top actors, in-cluding Nicolas Cage.

Imagine’s Grazer and Willis have been friends since the actor became a star on the ABC series “Moonlighting,” and have been looking since then for the right opportunity to do a film together. Willis recently finished starring in Universal’s remake of “Day of the Jackal,” which will likely be titled “Jackal.”

Though Sonnenfeld has dropped out of the picture, the director of “Get Shorty” has no shortage of projects he could do next. That includes a Universal adaptation of “Get Shorty” novelist Elmore Leonard’s “Out of Sight,” which is being produced by Jersey Films and scripted by “Shorty” scribe Scott Frank. Paramount is also wooing Sonnenfeld for a remake of the Elaine May film “A New Leaf,” with Cage mentioned as a possible star.

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