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Stewart goes boldly; renewed U fills its slate

PATRICK STEWART’S Flying Freehold Prods. and Paramount have set up a remake of “The Assassination Bureau” with “Dumb and Dumber” scribes Mark Steilen and Bennett Michael Yellin.

It’s one of several projects that Stewart has lined up, including a western written by Oscar-winner Michael Blake, and a starring vehicle about a hitman.

While the 1969 “Bureau,” based on a Jack London story, concerned a secret org eliminating those who deserved it, the new version concerns an IRS agent who accidentally infiltrates a club comprised of the world’s best hitmen. The killers try to cancel the audit, and, if necessary, the auditor.

Stewart will produce but not act in the film, and a deal was just closed for Steilen and Yellin by Emile Gladstone of Broder Kurland Webb & Uffner.

Flying Freehold, run by Stewart and partner Wendy Neuss, set their shingle at Par when Stewart reupped to continue playing Captain Picard in the “Next Generation” series.

They’ve made a deal with Par and “Dances With Wolves” scribe Michael Blake for “Winding Stair,” a film Stewart hopes to star in. “It’s a western set in Oklahoma about an unlikely posse that includes a German marshal, two Indians, a black sheriff and a young city law clerk who is being exposed to this kind of world for the first time,” said Stewart. “They have to solve a crime that took place in an Indian nation in the late 1850s.”

Flying Freehold and Par also made a deal for “Delivering Gen,” a script by Kurt Sutter also intended as an acting vehicle for Stewart. Set in Paris, the story concerns a hitman who finds he’s the father of a newborn baby. “After first trying to get rid of the baby, he returns to New York to find the mother and establish a normal life despite her drug addiction and criminal background,” said Stewart.

Stewart and Neuss expect Flying Freehold’s first go project will be an adaptation of “A Conspiracy of Tall Men,” based on a Noah Hawley novel now getting a second draft from scripter Jeff Lieber. As an actor, Stewart’s next big enterprise will be “X-Men,” the Bryan Singer-directed Marvel superhero saga scripted by Ed Solomon. Stewart plays Professor X, the wheelchair-bound leader of the superhero clan who battle Magneto, played by Ian McKellen.

“Aside from getting to work with Bryan, I’m most excited about reuniting with Sir Ian, who I began working with 25 years ago in the Royal Shakespeare Company,” said Stewart, who’s repped by ICM’s Steve Dontanville and David Seltzer of Industry Ent.

NICE U-TURN: Last year, Universal could do little right, but the new management team, under cochairmen Stacey Snider and Brian Mulligan, is fast putting together big star packages they hope will further the studio’s recent U-turn.

After some summer hits (and one big end-of-the-summer stumble with “Dudley Do-Right”), U’s fall dance card includes Beacon’s “For Love of the Game” (which has tested well, though there seems to be bruised feelings with Kevin Costner over some four-letter words excised to get a PG-13), the Jim Carrey-starrer “Man on the Moon” and “Snow Falling on Cedars,” and the studio half partners in “Angela’s Ashes” and “The Green Mile.”

Snider said the studio’s quickly lining up the next bunch. They’re looking to sign Brendan Fraser for another installment of “The Mummy” after the Alphaville-produced original became U’s seventh biggest grossing pic ever (the first six are Amblin-generated fare).

A third “Jurassic Park” installment is definite with Joe Johnston helming, and a firm start seems near for helmer Tom Shadyac on “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” Gary Ross is nearly done with a rewrite of Barry Fanaro’s script about two hetero firefighters who marry for insurance benefits, and Will Smith and Nicolas Cage loom likely as stars.

Cage just pacted for “Captain Correlli’s Mandolin” with “Notting Hill” helmer Roger Michel. “American Pie” helmers Chris and Paul Weitz are reteaming with scribe Adam Herz on an undisclosed new pic, and “The Incredible Hulk” has again become a priority project with Mike France scripting for a spring start date. Snider expects a quick production start for Mike Myers in “Sprockets.”

That’s one of several imminent greenlights for Imagine, which has a near-complete script for “Nutty Professor 2” from “Pie’s” Weitz guys. Imagine’s also prepping “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for Jim Carrey and Ron Howard.

U’s also poised to move quickly on “Hannibal,” the sequel to “Silence of the Lambs” being scripted by David Mamet for director Ridley Scott and producer Dino De Laurentiis. The producer paid a record $9 million to buy the book by Thomas Harris. Though the bestseller had a most uncinematic ending, sources said Harris has come up with a more Hollywoodesque climax.

CAST IN FAMILIAR ROLE: After a six-year stay, Paramount head of casting Deb Aquila will recast herself as an independent. Aquila, whose thesp discoveries include Edward Norton (for “Primal Fear”), is leaving mainly to work with a bunch of directors who make pics for other studios. She’s lined up several immediate jobs, including “Uprising” for Jon Avnet, “The Gift” for Sam Raimi and “Bijou” for Frank Darabont.

ENTERPRISING PERCENTER: Newcomer Susan May Pratt has been tapped to play one of the leads in the untitled Nicholas Hytner-directed film about the cutthroat world of ballet for Sony. The actress follows with the lead in the Myra Paci-directed indie “Searching For Paradise.”

Her deals were made by newly minted Gersh agent Jason Spire. Born and raised in L.A., he left a trainee positions under CAA’s Bryan Lourd to move to New York. After working on the desk of Gersh’s Lindsay Porter, Spire got his percentery stripes. Aside from Pratt, he’s also booked Kris Park into a role in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.”

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