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Vexed Madonna exits ‘Violins’

Material girl walks due to creative schism with Craven

NEW YORK — After spending three months learning to play the violin by the woman she was to portray in “50 Violins,” Madonna abruptly exited the Miramax project on Friday.

She was to begin work in early August starring in the film based on the life of Roberta Tzavaris, the East Harlem violin teacher who overcame a tough divorce and taught the instrument to inner-city kids, some of whom became Carnegie Hall-level fiddlers. That start date seems certain to be scratched even as names of possible replacement violinists like Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan surfaced. Miramax denied it had made any overtures to other actresses.

A rumor coursed through the Gotham production community Friday that the Material Girl was dropped from the project following a read-through and because of an accumulation of demands she had made that irked director Wes Craven. Those sour notes were met with a chorus of denials from Miramax and Craven.

‘Mutual decision’

In a statement, Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein called the parting of the ways “a mutual decision.”

Craven echoed that sentiment: “Despite rumors to the contrary, this has resulted from genuine mutual creative differences. So although we’ve decided not to go forward on this project, our decision is accompanied by great respect for one another. I have nothing but goodwill and admiration towards Madonna. She is a brilliant artist and her talent and achievements speak for themselves,” Craven said.

Other sources close to the fray backed up that contention, saying that Madonna’s exit was due to irreconcilable differences over how Craven was going to depict the story of Tzavaris. They said Madonna had gotten to know her teacher and her family quite well and couldn’t stomach how different the movie was from her actual story.

More projects in the works

There is little reason to sound the violins in sympathy for Madonna’s lost employment opportunity. Though it’s the second consecutive film she’s ankled (she recently bailed from the indie drama “The Red Door,” which will star Diane Lane), Madonna’s sudden availability has Lakeshore Entertainment aggressively trying to move up a start date on “The Next Best Thing,” the film in which she’s slated to star with Rupert Everett.

Madonna also is producing the screen adaptation of the Jennifer Bell novel “Going Down,” which Christina Booth has scripted and will direct, and which is creating buzz as a hot project with both distributors and young actresses vying to play the NYU student who becomes a prostitute to pay tuition.

In January, Madonna’s set to topline with Goldie Hawn the screen version of the musical “Chicago,” which Nicholas Hytner will direct. The film based on one of Broadway’s hottest tickets has much brighter commercial prospects than “50 Violins,” and it is unlikely that Weinstein would risk a relationship with Madonna built since “Truth or Dare” by allowing her to be summarily dismissed.