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Keeping up with Sandra B.

Busy thesp set to lense Castle Rock thriller, 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood'

On the heels of “Miss Congeniality’s” boffo run at the B.O., Sandra Bullock’s two-fold lifestyle as a thesp-producer has been scorching, setting the tone for a sizzling pre- and poststrike slate in front of and behind the camera.

The busy Bullock is lensing a thriller for Castle Rock Entertainment and Barbet Schroeder, and is in final negotiations to topline Warner Bros.’ adaptation of Rebecca Wells’ bestseller “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

In addition, her production shingle, Fortis Films, carries 10 pictures on its development slate.

Schroeder’s as-yet untitled suspenser also features Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling (“Remember the Titans”) and former “Dawson’s Creek” thesp Michael Pitt.

The movie, which began principal photography in late February in and around L.A., concerns a homicide detective (Bullock) and her partner (Chaplin), who become pitted against two high schoolers in a battle of wits as they try to solve a murder case. The film will be distributed by Warner Bros. and is slated for a 2002 release.

Castle Rock president Martin Shafer, who initially approached Bullock with the script, says the thesp was dropping hints during lensing “Congeniality” that she was ready to segue from comedy to doing a dramatic thriller.

“She can excel in any genre because people gravitate towards her no matter what,” says Shafer. “Her characters are sympathetic and you find yourself caring about her right away; she exudes a warmth that very few people can carry off throughout a picture’s entirety.”

“Sandra is often pegged as a romantic comedy actress and she is hungry to branch out,” asserts Gesine Bullock, Fortis’ executive vice president (and Bullocks’ sister).

After wrapping the pic Castle Rock, Bullock will presumably report to work for “Ya-Ya,” for which Warners anticipates a prestrike lensing date. The film will be the directing debut of Callie Khouri, who has penned such pics as Oscar winner “Thelma & Louise” and “Something to Talk About.”

Maggie Smith, Ashley Judd, Ellen Burstyn, Ron Eldard, Brenda Blethyn and Shirley Knight have been mentioned as cast mates.

The Warner Bros.-Gaylord Films feature, which was optioned three years ago from Bette Midler and Bonnie Bruckheimer’s All Girl Prods., tells the tale of a young Southern woman who tires of her outlandish mother and takes off for Seattle, only to one day receive a box in the mail that includes mementos and a diary chronicling the adventures of her mother and a group of friends known as the Ya-Yas.

If the deals are sealed, Bullock will play the daughter, and Burstyn her mother, whom Judd would play in flashbacks.

On the Fortis front, out of the 10 scripts being developed, Gesine Bullock confirms that a bevy of titles were optioned with the intent of Sandra headlining them. The shingle has six pictures set up at Warner Bros., where the company has a first-look deal.

The Warner-housed titles include the thriller “The Art of Breaking Glass,” the romantic comedies “Sprinkler Queen” and “The List,” the fantasy romancer “Alison’s Starting to Happen,” the laffer “Babe Behind Bars” and animated feature “Nicholas Cricket.”

“Love Comes to the Executioner,” at the Shooting Gallery, will in all probability be the first of the 10 to lense. However, because the Bullocks are intent on holding out for the right talent, the comedy most likely will not go into production until the strike issues are resolved down.

Rounding out the slate are the yet-to-be set up animated film “Jingle”; fantasy thriller “Wildest Dreams,” for MGM; and biopic “The Tammi Chase Story,” for Revolution Studios.

Of the eight features (not counting the animated ones), Gesine Bullock confirms that Sandra has her eye on starring in all except “Babe Behind Bars” and “Love Comes to the Executioner.”

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