TNT locks up deal for Houdini biopic

Schaech tapped to play legendary escape artist

Trilogy Prods. has committed to executive produce a biopic on magician Harry Houdini as a TNT Original for air late in 1998 or early 1999 on the Turner Broadcasting cabler, with Johnathon Schaech (“That Thing You Do!” “Hush”) tapped to portray the legendary escape artist, and Pen Densham (“Moll Flanders,” “Backdraft”) attached to direct.

The two-hour “Houdini” is set for a May production startup, according to sources. Film will focus on Houdini’s rise to fame as well as his fascination with the world of spiritualism and the afterlife that marked his increasingly bizarre later years.

Production comes 45 years after the first biographical pic on Houdini, also called “Houdini,” which was made in 1953 and featured Tony Curtis in the lead, with Janet Leigh co-starring.

The busy Schaech, who portrayed bandmate Jimmy in Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!” and appeared with Winona Ryder in “How to Make an American Quilt,” also stars in the Australian indie feature “Welcome to Woop Woop,” which opens April 17, and appears in the indie productions “Finding Graceland” with Harvey Keitel and “Woundings” opposite Guy Pearce.

” ‘Houdini’ will be my most challenging role to date,” Schaech said. “The man was so much more than people remember. As far as (generating publicity), he was really the Madonna of his day.”

Densham is no stranger to TNT, having executive produced the miniseries “Buffalo Soldiers” for the network, and exec produced the drama series “The Outer Limits” and “Poltergeist” for Showtime. For the bigscreen, Densham wrote, produced and directed “Moll Flanders,” wrote and produced “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and produced both “Backdraft” and “Blown Away.”

“TNT is treating this more like a feature than like a TV movie,” Densham said. “They’re allowing me to try to bring the same kind of vision to this as I was able to give to ‘Moll Flanders’ last year. And I’m very excited about getting Johnathon.”

Deal was brokered by Imparato Knight Fay Management and attorney Steve Warren at Hanson, Jacobson, Teller & Hoberman.