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Weir likely to ‘Master’ helm for Fox voyage

Cult following could attract star scribe

Director Peter Weir (“The Truman Show”) is in discussions with 20th Century Fox to helm the first installment of what the studio hopes could be a big franchise: the “Master and Commander” series of high-seas adventure novels from late author Patrick O’Brian.

If the film works, the series really could go on and on; O’Brian wrote 20 novels, starting with “Master and Commander” in 1969, set in the world of the Royal Navy amid the 19th century Napoleonic wars and featuring captain Jack Aubrey and physician, naturalist and spy Stephen Maturin.

The books have a passionate cult following of the sort studios love — a built-in base of devoted fans that makes a greenlight for a big-budget period film with lots of special effects a notch less mortifying.

Weir, in Europe recently to attend a tribute to him at the Taormina film festival in Sicily, has been detouring to visit tall ships to get the feel of the genre.

Samuel Goldwyn Jr. is producing. Tom Rothman, who was just named co-chairman of the Fox film studio, was president of production for Goldwyn back in the early 1990s when the project was first set up. It’s also been a project long-nurtured by Hutch Parker, T.C.F. production prexy.

No script is in hand, but there’s no doubt that the project could attract an admiral-rank writer. O’Brian’s admirers include such luminaries as playwright Tom Stoppard, who won an Oscar for co-writing “Shakespeare in Love,” and helmer-scribe David Mamet (“State and Main”), who wrote a recent paean to O’Brian in the New York Times.

Praise for prose

Mamet compared O’Brian to Mark Twain and Conan Doyle and celebrated the writer’s gripping and unpretentious stories as an antidote to “putrid and despicable Graduate Degree sensitivity.”

O’Brian died in January at age 85.

Weir was part of the group of young directors who brought Australian cinema to world prominence in the 1970s. His early pics include “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave.” In Hollywood, he’s known for “Witness,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Fearless,” among others, and he has picked up four Oscar nominations.

Sources said the studio saw Weir as “the best possible filmmaker in the world for the project because it’s both character-driven and has great scope.” He’s repped by CAA.

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