Wrestling’s Rock rolls into 2 pics

Alda joins 'Women'

As studios search for the next franchisable action hero, suddenly everybody wants a piece of The Rock.

Dwayne Johnson, a gridironer-turned-grappler whose character The Rock is the top draw of the World Wrestling Federation, is in advanced talks to topline two major films, and he’ll get near $5 million per pic.

Johnson is negotiating to topline–in dual good guy/bad guy roles–an untitled but big budget scifi film for Joe Roth to be scripted and directed by Glen Morgan and James Wong, “X-Files” exec producers who also wrote and directed the surprise hit “Final Destination.” Johnson is also in serious talks with Universal to star in a prequel to the studio’s franchise hit “The Mummy,” which would concentrate on the Scorpion King character he plays in “The Mummy 2.” While Johnson’s screen time in that sequel is limited to a few showy scenes, studio brass were impressed enough with the dailies to hatch deal talks. The prequel will be produced by the “Mummy” team of Jim Jacks, Sean Daniel and Stephen Sommers. Both projects would involve WWF owners Vince and Linda McMahon in producing capacities.

While the movie activity seems sudden, it’s the result of two years of aggressive agenting, and a campaign to demonstrate the charisma honed by The Rock after years playing to crowds as a football player and then a wrestler. A defensive lineman on the U of Miami team that won a national championship in 1991, Johnson played ball for a short time in Canada, before donning the tights for his first wrestling match in 1996. Johnson began honing his Rock persona shortly after, and his ascension paralleled the WWF resurgence into a major ratings grabber. Talent agency Endeavor signed the grappling circuit and its owner, Vince McMahon; Endeavor partner Marty Adelstein then got McMahon’s blessing to personally handle Johnson’s transition to film acting.

Adelstein began inviting studio execs to the matches to meet Johnson and see him at work. After guesting on talkshows, Johnson hosted “Saturday Night Live,” getting the show’s biggest ratings in eight years. Adelstein then began pitching him not only for macho fare, but dramas and comedies as well. Johnson’s first major starring role will likely be with Morgan and Wong, as Roth is already eyeing the film to be in production and ready for distribution next summer.

Johnson’s hardly the first to transition from the ring to screen, and as Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper can attest, it isn’t automatic. Johnson’s younger than those guys were and fits more closely into the statuesque movie star mold. He’s poised to take his shot. “This has always been a goal of mine, something we’ve collectively put a lot of effort into,” said Johnson. “I was very comfortable acting in ‘The Mummy 2,’ which is the beauty of playing the character of The Rock on television on a weekly basis. The Rock is essentially Dwayne Johnson, magnified, over the edge and with the volume turned up to the highest degree. He’s a nonlinear character with a lot of depth.”

ALDA JOINS PIC; MULLS SMALLSCREEN: Alan Alda has joined Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in the Nancy Myers-directed “What Women Want” for Paramount, playing Gibson’s boss.

Alda was well courted by the networks during pilot season after a stirring turn on “ER.” He’s resisted years of overtures since “M*A*S*H*,” but had such a good time on “ER” that he has now reopened the door on the idea of aligning himself to a series if the writing’s strong. Alda is repped by ICM’s Toni Howard.

FROM BOARDS TO FANGS: While her resume consists of the BBC fare like “Great Expectations” and “Wives and Daughters” as well as the Royal Shakespeare Theater Co.’s performance in “Seagull,” Justine Waddell is sinking her teeth into her first American film role, landing the female lead in Dimension’s “Dracula 2000,” opposite Christopher Plummer and a young cast. She’s repped by Jason Barrett and Paul-Lyon Maris at ICM.

FROM FILM TO BOOK: Most film adaptations of books follow the book. That’s not the case of “The Truth About the Lies,” the life story of Rich Farrell, a kid whose story got set up with producers Harry and Mary Jane Ufland, and was strong enough to get screenwriter “Mask” scribe Anna Hamilton Phelan to commit to writing the film version on spec.

Farrell grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Lowell, Mass., with a father who was a teacher and pillar of the community. As a boy, Farrell was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but despite this, his father decided he would play football for Notre Dame. He pushed the son toward that goal, and Farrell became an all-state defensive back in high school. While this sounds like an uplifting variation of “Rudy,” Farrell’s story is a tale of a hellish childhood at the hands of an abusive bully who taunted and terrorized the son and his mother, keeping the abuse secret from the town. Farrell graduated from his dysfunctional upbringing to a heroin habit, which led him to join in a suicide pact with two friends. They both overdosed and died, but Farrell survived. It was only then that he began to rebuild his life, and is now a teacher at University of Massachusetts. Farrell’s manuscript hooked Phelan, who’s currently adapting the Toni Morrison novel “Paradise” for Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. “The manuscript stunned me and affected me in an emotional way I can’t quite describe, but I’m sure I’ll find out at about page 70 of the screenplay,” said Phelan.

They’ll set up the film project after she writes the screenplay, but Farrell’s now looking to make a book deal right away.

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