Thesp trio eyes ‘Nurse’; ‘Superman’ may fly

FOLLOWING ‘BETTY’: Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman are in talks to star for director Neil LaBute in “Nurse Betty,” a comedy for Propaganda and Polygram Films.

LaBute’s become a hot director off his two previous edgy efforts “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors,” the latter of which was produced by Propaganda and distributed by Gramercy.

Like those films, “Nurse Betty” has a similarly cynical perspective. Scripted by James Flamberg and John Richard, it pits Rock and Freeman against Zellweger. They’re mob hit men who think she has seen them doing a job, so they try to kill her. The film will be produced by Gail Mutrux and will begin filming early next year if all deals work out. Propaganda’s Steve Golin wouldn’t comment.

Rock, who is hosting his weekly HBO show, just came off the summer hit “Lethal Weapon 4” and stars in the Kevin Smith-directed “Dogma.” He’s repped by ICM’s Eddy Yablans. Zellweger, currently in theaters in “One True Thing,” just committed to co-star with Chris O’Donnell in New Line’s “The Bachelor” for director Gary Sinyor. Zellweger, who’ll do “Nurse Betty” right after she completes that film, is repped by CAA and managed by John Carrabino. Freeman’s repped by William Morris’ Len Hirshan. LaBute’s agent is Brad Gross of Sanford Gross.

“SUPERMAN” RESURRECTED? Since Superman died and was resurrected in a DC comic that sold 23 million copies, perhaps it’s appropriate that the movie about that subject is on the verge of rising from the ashes. Months ago, Warner Bros. execs seemed to be administering last rites to “Superman Lives,” the film that was to star Nicolas Cage and be directed by Tim Burton. The greenlight was canceled because the script didn’t work, and the budget had soared to around $140 million. Cage flew off to star with wife Patricia Arquette and Ving Rhames for Martin Scorsese in “Bringing Out the Dead,” and Burton went off to direct Johnny Depp in “Sleepy Hollow.”

Dish hears a rewrite came in to WB brass and producer Jon Peters, which has gotten Cage excited again. More important, studio brass is excited because the script can be made for less than $100 million, with a greater emphasis on characters. The Clark Kent who saved the day is a screenwriter named Dan Gilroy, who might establish a cottage industry for all those bloated event pictures that need trimmer budgets and sharper storylines. No word if Burton will come back, but it looks likely that Cage will don those tights after all.

BANKS SHOT: Disney TV prexy Charles Hirschorn has netted a starring vehicle for supermodel Tyra Banks for “The Wonderful World of Disney.” The studio has bought “Honey Thunder Dunk,” a Louie Maggiotto-scripted comedy that’s described as “Tootsie” set in the WNBA. A male ballplayer who doesn’t make the NBA because of his ballhogging propensities shaves down and joins the WNBA. He immediately becomes a star, as the only female center in the league who can dunk. But he’s got a problem. He’d like to make a pass bigtime for the team’s shooting guard, with whom he’s fallen in love. That role will be played by Banks, who thinks her teammate is a woman. While top-salaried on the runway, Banks is working toward screen bankability after acting in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and the John Singleton pic “Higher Learning.” Banks, a spokeswoman for the WNBA, will co-produce the film, which will be produced by Mike Karz and David Eichler. The film was packaged by Dave Phillips and David Guc of Innovative Artists and attorney Matt Johnson, with an assist by Disney’s Peter Green.

BRUCK EYES ANOTHER MASTER: Connie Bruck, the staff writer for the New Yorker who specializes in lengthy dissections of Hollywood business, has made a deal with Random House to write a book about the history of MCA, with the primary focus on founder Jules Stein and the man long considered to be the most influential in Hollywood, Lew Wasserman. Bruck’s last book was the Simon & Schuster title “Master of the Game,” which she wrote with the cooperation of the late Time Warner honcho Steve Ross.

While Wasserman has long been a compelling figure, he has always resisted cooperating in attempts to tell his story. Bruck confirmed she’s indeed doing a book she’ll deliver in December 2000 and said she was “hopeful” that Wasserman would eventually cooperate. “To some degree it’s his story, but it’s also the history of MCA,” said Bruck. “But Wasserman is the person I’ll be following, and he’s a great subject for the book.”

In a recent New Yorker article written about Edgar Bronfman Jr. when it appeared that he would buy EMI (days later, Polygram became available and Bronfman bought that company instead), Bruck took a sharp look at Bronfman and his top execs and they moaned loudly. Since her book will cover them, she’ll have to go back to those execs who felt stung. “I didn’t make my life any easier, but I didn’t have much choice,” said Bruck. “I’m hoping that time will heal all those wounds and they’ll cooperate.”

Bruck, who usually turns out a couple articles a year which run as long as 25,000 words, will write essays for a “Letter From L.A.” section that will appear in the magazine every other month while she writes her book. Hers won’t be the first weighty Wasserman tome to hit bookshelves. Dennis McDougal, who co-wrote “Fatal Subtraction” with Pierce O’Donnell, has a Nov. 4 pub date for his Crown hardcover “The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood.”

McDougal said he got a total of 10 minutes with Wasserman, but feels he’s covered the terrain pretty thoroughly: “The story starts in 1896 with the birth of Jules Stein and goes through last February, when Wasserman stepped down and became chairman emeritus.” The MCA story, he said, encompasses the origins of the agency, TV and movie businesses and features some dishy mob stuff as well.

CRAWFORD, SALL TUNE UP: ICM agent Steve Crawford becomes the latest tenpercenter to ankle. He’ll join Ralph Sall and his Bulletproof Entertainment shingle, with the focus on setting up musically driven films. Sall is a former Fox exec who has various projects set up as an indie producer and who is a much sought-after music supervisor whose film credits include “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “The Craft” and “Speed.” He also created albums and produced records for Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth and Jewel. At ICM, Crawford repped numerous music supervisors responsible for many recent hit movie soundtracks.

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