Inside Move: Strikes cause A-list shuffles

Studios juggling actors in production rush

The race to sign stars to A-list projects that can be completed before projected summer guild strikes has led to shuffling lineups for some of the hottest ensemble projects.

The dazzling cast of the Steven Soderbergh-directed remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” is on the verge of changing. While George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts seem solidly committed, Mark Wahlberg has been forced to back out of a lead role because of his commitment to topline the Tim Burton-directed remake of “Planet of the Apes” at Fox. Warner Bros. is in talks with Matt Damon to take Wahlberg’s role, and it’s a real possibility if Damon isn’t too busy with the starring role in the Doug Liman-directed adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel “The Bourne Identity.”

Bruce Willis’ participation in “Ocean’s Eleven” is also looking shaky (Ewan McGregor has been offered the role), as is that of Luke and Owen Wilson. The Wilsons were expected to play brothers in the film, but WB is now looking to sibling filmmaking team Joel and Ethan Coen to fill the roles. But the Coens may be too busy on their latest film, the untitled “Barber Project,” starring Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand, to make their feature starring debut.

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The Wilson brothers would be thrilled to do “Ocean’s Eleven,” but scheduling is problematic since they are being paged by their “Bottle Rocket” director Wes Anderson for “The Royal Tenenbaums” — another ensemble piece with a highly regarded script, this one by Anderson and Owen Wilson. Freshly greenlit by Disney, “Tenenbaums” has Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman, Danny Glover and the Wilsons all poised to participate. A Paltrow commitment could upset another star convergence in the screen version of Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours,” which had been discussed as a possible vehicle for Paltrow, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.

The need to finish production by next summer also has USA Films sounding taps for “Flora Plum,” the Jodie Foster-directed pic that was shelved when Russell Crowe injured his shoulder. Sources said that USA is in talks with its insurers to settle up on pre-production costs for the film, though the studio said that no final decision has yet been made. Crowe’s injury was especially unfortunate because production of “Flora Plum,” a film without a commercial premise, was made possible as Crowe booked the film at a very low price before his star soared with “Gladiator,” which has moved his salary to the $15 million level. Crowe is expected to next star in “A Beautiful Mind” with Ron Howard at the helm, and likely wouldn’t be able to do the highly physical “Flora Plum” role for at least nine months, at which time Hollywood could be at a labor standstill. The “Flora Plum” debacle is also problematic for Crowe’s co-star Claire Danes, who took a semester hiatus from Yale to star in the passion project. It’s unclear whether she will return to her coursework or book another film instead.

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