Jerry Zucker has committed to direct as his next film “A Course in Miracles,” the Michael Petroni-scripted drama at Touchstone about a young priest with a crisis of faith who’s assigned by the Vatican to verify or discount claims of miracles around the world. Over the course of his investigation, his faith is reaffirmed.
The film will begin casting for a male lead for a June start. It’s a production of Caravan Pictures, whose Roger Birnbaum was brought the material by his brother, Stuart Birnbaum. Both Birnbaums will produce along with Petroni.
Touchstone president Donald DeLine confirmed the studio had landed Zucker. The film, he said, is undergoing a title change, but Zucker’s commitment means it’ll be fast-tracked. “It’s a very emotional film and is perfect for Jerry, who has shown with ‘Ghost’ and ‘First Knight’ that he handles characters and emotions incredibly well,” DeLine said. Zucker’s repped by CAA.
LADIES LANDING: Three up-and-coming actresses are circling substantial next projects. Courtney Love, who transformed herself from grunge goddess to serious actress with “People vs. Larry Flynt,” is zeroing in on the ensemble drama “200 Cigarettes,” about a group of friends headed for a party in the East Village on New Year’s Eve 1981.
The film, with an under-$10 million budget, will be financed and produced by Lakeshore Entertainment along with Mike Newell’s Dogstar and MTV. The script, by Shana Larsen, has been a fave of young actors, and marks the directing debut of casting director Risa Bramon Garcia. Love will likely be part of an ensemble that will include Ben Affleck, along with his brother Casey, Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman, who are all discussing roles. A hip soundtrack is expected as well.
Gwyneth Paltrow, meanwhile, is in talks to join Joe Fiennes — unlike brother Ralph, his name’s pronounced the way it’s spelled — in “Shakespeare in Love,” a comedy about Shakespeare’s lust while writing “Romeo and Juliet.” John Madden (“Mrs. Brown”) is directing for Miramax, which’ll put the film in production if they land Paltrow.
At Universal, they’re talking with Heather Graham (“Boogie Nights”) to take the female lead alongside Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in “Bofinger.”
DIAMOND IN ‘PALACE’: Lou Diamond Phillips is taking good and bad guy roles in equal doses. After a memorable villainous turn in “Courage Under Fire,” Phillips will play the antagonist in “Brokedown Palace,” the Fox 2000 film directed by Jonathan Kaplan and starring Bill Pullman and Claire Danes. He plays an uptight DEA agent who presses the case against a couple of women jailed in Southeast Asia for drug smuggling. They’re defended by Pullman.
Phillips, who’ll next be seen opposite Mark Wahlberg in TriStar’s “The Big Hit,” is repped by Rigbert-Roberts Management and Innovative Artists.
SILVER EYES ‘SQUAD’ GOLD: Signed to co-script the screen adaptation of the Aaron Spelling series creation “The Mod Squad,” Scott Silver’s poised to go for the gold. He’s negotiating to direct the script he’s writing with Stephen Kay for United Artists. Silver’s got feature heat after helming the indie film “johns.” “Mod Squad” is a co-production between Spelling Entertainment and UA, with Ben Myron, Alan Riche, and Tony Ludwig producing, and Spelling and David Ladd exec producing.
IRISH EYES OTHER SUBJECTS: “The Boxer” follows “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father” and “Some Mother’s Son,” as a quartet of films either directed or produced by Jim Sheridan that have shed light on the struggles in Ireland. But Sheridan’s ready to move on — to the Italians. He wants to next direct an adaptation of “I, Claudius,” based on Robert Graves’ novel about the Roman Empire. He’ll use American actors for the project, which he’s set up at Universal and is scripting now.
“Claudius was the emperor, and Caligula was the equivalent of Hitler, and I’m interested in that dynamic, the characters and the story, which ended with Nero burning the place down,” Sheridan said. He might well end up writing with Terry George, his frequent collaborator and scripter of “The Boxer.” Graves’ book was previously turned into a 12-part BBC miniseries.
Sheridan is also in talks to direct the script George will write for “The High Ground,” a film journo/producer Howard Blum set up at Castle Rock to star Tom Cruise. Sheridan said that deal’s not done, but added the subject — the systematic elimination by the Mossad of the Arab terrorists responsible for slaying Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics — is intriguing.
“I am still interested in terrorism because it’s a modern problem and it’s going to be with us for a long time and it’s worse when you don’t deal with it,” Sheridan said.
For a director whose films are frequently contenders for Oscar hardware, Sheridan was a well-hidden secret much of his life, coming from the theater by way of New York. “I lived in America for seven years, where I ran a theater called the Irish Arts Center,” Sheridan said. “I never took a photo before I made ‘My Left Foot,’ but I was hungry.”
Sheridan, who’s also writing a semi-autobiographical comedy about those early days in the theater, seemed pleased with the reception of “The Boxer,” though he worried the film was hurt by a late delivery that forced Golden Globe voters to see it sans final credits and cost it consideration on many critics’ top 10 lists.