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Quarles’ ‘Mama’ at Fox

Lawrence to star in comedy

Eyeing a multicharacter starring vehicle for actor-comedian Martin Lawrence, 20th Century Fox has paid a mid-six- against high-six-figure sum for Darryl Quarles’ comedy spec “Big Momma’s House.”

Fox-based producer David Friendly will produce along with Lawrence’s managers Michael Green and Jeff Kwatinetz of the Firm. Lawrence also would serve as exec producer of the project.

In the caper comedy, Lawrence would star as an undercover cop and master of disguise, who, in the course of an investigation, ends up impersonating several people including an extended ruse as “Big Momma,” a Southern grandmother.

Quarles initially brought “Big Momma” to Friendly Prods. as a pitch, which the company then took to Lawrence before further developing it into the spec Fox optioned Tuesday.

“As soon as we heard the pitch, I saw Martin in the role,” Friendly told Daily Variety. “It’s rare that you land the actor you envisioned for the role the first time you hear the pitch.”

Friendly Prods.’ exec David Higgins is credited with bringing the project into the company and is likely to receive some producer credit on the film.

Fox execs Sanford Panitch and Nate Hopper are overseeing the project for Tom Rothman’s Fox Film division.

“Big Momma” is the second project Fox has acquired for Lawrence. The “Nothing to Lose” and “Bad Boys” co-star also is attached to 20th’s “This Means War,” a comedy written by Marcus Gautesen about two best friends who fall in love with the same woman and subsequently wreak havoc on each other and Manhattan.

Green and Kwatinetz also are producing “War,” which could serve as Lawrence’s next project after the one he’s lensing now, “Blue Streak,” under Les Mayfield’s helm at Columbia. He can next be seen in the Universal/Imagine project “Life,” in which he co-stars with Eddie Murphy for director Ted Demme.

In the past three years, Quarles has sold three specs to major studios, including “There Goes the Hood,” which he co-wrote with Colby Carr, to Universal and producer Robert Simonds; “Black to Africa” to Fox Family Films (since renamed Fox Animation Studios); and “Rat Race” to Hollywood Pictures and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Quarles, whose deal for “Big Momma” was brokered by ICM’s Paul Hook, also penned “Freaknik” for Miramax. The scribe also is repped by the Firm’s Aaron Ray.