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.”

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Tegna CEO Dave Lougee

    Coronavirus Pandemic Puts a Bright Spotlight on Value of Local TV

    The TV station group Tegna has been the subject of acquisition rumors for nearly a year. Finally, bids started to surface earlier this month that pegged the company’s market value at about $8.5 billion.  But in the space of a week, the assets up for grabs at Tegna have taken on a very different kind [...]

  • SXSW

    How Canceling SXSW Because of Coronavirus Affected These Filmmakers

    The 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival was set to be a career-making moment for many creators, and a particularly bright spotlight for women, as 70% of the films in competition were directed or co-directed by female filmmakers.  But when the 27th edition of the Austin-based festival was canceled on March 6 due to the [...]

  • Sugical mask isolated on yellow surface.

    How I Raised $6,000 During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Asking for Couples' Drama (Column)

    When you have a generalized anxiety disorder and a daily existential crisis, you end up self-isolating long before the city of Los Angeles mandates it. My coronavirus co-quarantine result is an apartment-turned-shared-home-office between a graduate student (my boyfriend) and a social media editor (me) who attempt romance from six feet apart without leaving their loungewear. [...]

  • Sam Mendes Bong Joon Ho 1917

    Final Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win in the Major Categories?

    The 92nd Academy Awards are almost here… For films like “Joker” and “Marriage Story,” the journey to the Oscars began five months ago with their premieres in Venice. “1917” had the least amount of time on the campaign trail: The Sam Mendes war movie didn’t start screening until late November. In the end, however, it [...]

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    Academy Needs to Start Taking Chances With Noms; Rewards Will Follow (Column)

    Throughout its history, the Academy Awards has been subject to intense criticism for the issues it embraces — and ignores. This year’s uproar over the lack of diversity among nominations in the highest-profile awards categories is the latest example. This failure reflects a chronic dearth of opportunity at Hollywood’s top artistic and financial levels. The milestone nominations [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandolorian

    Media Giants Make Smaller Moves With an Eye Toward Future Gains in Streaming Era

    Maybe the empire can strike back. Or at least strike anew. Over the past few months, a number of developments have emerged for traditional media companies that indicate a spirit of reinvention and experimentation is spreading across the industry. There’s a new willingness to take a hard look at long-standing operations and make big and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content