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Paint Lopez into Kahlo biopic at UA

NEW YORK — Jennifer Lopez, who launched her star playing one Latina icon in “Selena,” is poised to play another — Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Lopez is circling a Kahlo biopic that Luis Valdez will direct from his own script, with Francis Ford Coppola exec producing for United Artists. No deal has been made, but sources said the plan is for Lopez to make the movie in early 2001.

That puts Lopez in close brush with a Miramax film about the painter, which has Salma Hayek starring, from a script most recently drafted by Rodrigo Garcia (“Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her”). Though Miramax would not confirm it, sources say the studio is in serious talks with director Andrucha Waddington, who most recently helmed the Cannes hit “Me, You, Them,” and was first A.D. on “Central Station” for Walter Salles, the helmer who would have directed Hayek in the Frida film had he not been obligated to helm another for that pic’s producer, Arthur Cohn.

Neither United Artists nor Coppola’s Zoetrope had much to say about its Kahlo pic. The understanding is that Valdez, whose films include “La Bamba” and “Zoot Suit,” worked from the book “The Two Fridas.” The filmmaker has been trying for a decade to bring the painter to the big screen. He nearly got there back in 1991, only to see Kahlo get KO’d by New Line after protests ensued when the role went to a non-Latina, Laura San Giacomo. Madonna also was once deemed a probable for the role, but got the same heated response. Neither Lopez nor Hayek has that problem, but while both would likely work below market price, the competitive situation raises the obvious question: like Kahlo’s paintings, will one end up on the canvas? A race could be extra dishy, in that the stars are Hollywood’s most prominent Latinas.

Lopez, who opens this week in the New Line thriller “The Cell,” follows with a comic turn alongside Matthew McConaughey in “The Wedding Planner” and stars in the drama “Angel Eyes.” Lopez is managed by Handprint and agented by ICM.

DOWNEY ONSTAGE: Robert Downey Jr. is wasting no time reintegrating into showbiz. Aside from his accepting the role of love interest for “Ally McBeal” for an eight episode arc which could stretch further, Downey last Saturday took the stage during a concert given by Sting at the Greek Theater. Sting called Downey onstage and they duetted on the tune, “Fill Her Up,” a song Sting has done with James Taylor. Sources say Downey held his own. He begins filming “Ally” this week.

HOLLOW” WEAN FOR VERHOEVEN: Though Paul Verhoeven had pretty much shut the door on returning to helm Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct 2,” the “Hollow Man” director indeed had a meeting with Stone to reconsider, and wound up making numerous suggestions to tweak the script.

While he’ll make a final decision on his next film after returning from a five-week international press tour for the Sony hit, Verhoeven has several other prominent possibles for his next film. One is “Other Powers,” a Stephen Katz-scripted pic about suffragist Victoria Woodhull, which is being produced at Sony by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Another is an adaptation of “Mont Oriol,” a short story by Guy de Maupassant being put together for a European shoot by some of the Dutch producers he collaborated with on early films. Many critics of “Hollow Man” and recent Verhoeven efforts pine for the esoteric qualities of early pre-blockbuster Dutch pics like “Spetters” and “The Fourth Man.” This project would harken back to those roots. A decision will be made by the fall.

CAIN ENABLED ON “RUNAWAY”: Dean Cain has been set to star in the Hallmark Hall of Fame pic “Runaway” for director Andy Wolk. The telepic’s an adaptation of the Terry Kay novel, and shooting begins in North Carolina Aug. 28 for CBS. Cain plays a sheriff who leads an investigation of the killing of a black man in the 1940s south after the victim’s son and his white friend uncover a bone that proves to belong to the body of his father. Cain’s repped by UTA and attorney Robert Lange.

ANOTHER GO-AROUND: Just when it seemed to be down for the count, “Going Down” is coming around again. The acclaimed Jennifer Belle novel — about an aspiring actress who puts herself through the Tisch School of the Arts by becoming a high-priced call girl — has been optioned by producers Chris and Roberta Hanley, the husband and wife team whose credits include “Two Girls and a Guy,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “American Psycho.” The project had been under option by Madguy, with Madonna planning to make her directorial debut on the pic. Belle herself wrote a script, but the project stalled. When the option expired, the author decided to go elsewhere. Belle was repped by CAA and attorney Andrew Krents, the producers by attorney Philip Rosen.

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