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H’w’d taps on Mendes’ door

Out of tuner, helmer's hot

The Stephen Sondheim musical “Wise Guys” won’t make the spring Broadway season, which means that in Hollywood, it’s open season on the show’s director, Sam Mendes.

Mendes is best known as the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse and for helming such legiters as the Nicole Kidman starrer “The Blue Room.” But he is easily the most coveted new director in Hollywood, after bringing in his debut feature project, “American Beauty,” for $15 million — generating a U.S. gross near $70 million and some of the best reviews of the year. Pic is considered a strong Oscar candidate.

Studio execs, however, have been frustrated as both of the film’s chief creative architects, Mendes and scripter Alan Ball, have been unavailable. Ball has been busy writing a TV series, which has been his primary pursuit.

Mendes is now available, though it is unclear whether he’ll move to close a feature deal. If he does, the project most often mentioned is a Scott Frank-scripted thriller called “The Lookout,” which, like “American Beauty,” will be made by DreamWorks. Pic has attracted the attention of young stars like Brad Pitt, and it’s believed that Mendes has been quietly developing the script with Frank, offering suggestions and notes. Mendes has also recently met with such young talent as Leonardo DiCaprio, and the feeling is that he can attract stars after making his debut in such a hip project.

The London-based Mendes is coming off a triumphant European debut of “American Beauty,” which closed the London Film Festival. The film rolls out overseas in January.

Last week producers canceled plans for an April Broadway bow for “Wise Guys” after coming to the conclusion that it hadn’t yet jelled after a monthlong workshop at the New York Theater Workshop. Sondheim will go back to the drawing board, and it is unclear when it will resurface or whether Mendes will remain its director.

That’s just fine with Hollywood studio execs, who will likely begin servicing Mendes’ CAA agent with just about every decent script in their arsenal.

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