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Curtis taps more stars

As Britain’s only billion-dollar screenwriter, and a legendarily persuasive fellow to boot, Richard Curtis was never going to have trouble casting whomever he wanted in his directorial debut, “Love Actually” — even though the number of leading roles stretches well into double figures.

And so it goes. The previously announced Hugh Grant (as the British Prime Minister) and Emma Thompson (playing his sister) have now been joined by former soap starlet Martine McCutcheon (as the tea girl Grant’s PM falls for), Alan Rickman (as Thompson’s husband), Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, and, in a key cameo, Rowan Atkinson.

Alongside those established players, there’s also Keira Knightley (from “Bend It Like Beckham”), Andrew Lincoln (most recently in the C4 series “Teachers”), Chris Marshall (ITV’s “Dr. Zhivago”) and stand-up Martin Freeman.

Curtis, the comic Midas behind “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bean” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” has described the project as having 10 different, partially interrelated storylines, in the manner of his favorite filmmaker, Robert Altman. Pic is set in contemporary London, with a short diversion to France.

It’s being produced by Duncan Kenworthy for Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner’s Working Title Films, bankrolled by Universal Pictures. Principal photography starts Sept. 2, but the very first shot of the movie actually went into the can last week.

Curtis, Kenworthy and a cameraman flew out to Kenya July 24 to shoot the opening image — a picture on a wall of a group of Africans, who come to life and start speaking Swahili to each other. What significance this has within the movie, nobody is divulging.

Euro ‘Evil’ triumphs around the globe

The most successful European independent movie of 2002 so far is not a French romance or a British comedy, but a vidgame adaptation.

“Resident Evil” grossed $40 million in North America, and is up to $32 million midway through its foreign rollout. It has spent three weeks at No. 1 in Italy, ahead of “Spider-Man,” “Scooby Doo” and “Lilo and Stitch.” Asia has been particularly strong, and with Japan still to come, pic’s on course for $100 million worldwide.

Pic was written and directed by L.A.-based Brit Paul Anderson and produced by his compatriot Jeremy Bolt, who divides his time equally between London and the West Coast. Their company, Impact Pictures, is 51% owned by Germany’s Constantin, which financed the $30 million pic without a North American deal, in partnership with French co-producer Samuel Hadida of Metropolitan Film. Pic qualified for U.K. tax breaks worth about $3 million, and $2 million of German subsidies.

Intermedia (L.A.-based, German owned) handled foreign sales. Sony picked up North American rights for no advance but a significant P&A commitment, as well as taking Italy and Latin America.

The critics may not have been kind, but Bolt is past caring. “What’s very exciting for me is that we’ve made a very commercial film at a very un-Hollywood budget, which has really competed in the marketplace at the busiest time I can remember for genre movies,” Bolt says. “With this and ‘Mortal Kombat,’ Paul must now be the most successful adapter of videogames.”

Impact is about to announce the acquisition of another major game. Meanwhile, Anderson is writing “Resident Evil 2,” though it’s undecided whether he will direct it. Other projects in advanced development include “The Bird Man,” a $15 million serial-killer thriller, co-produced by Sarah Radclyffe, which is casting to shoot in Canada by the end of the year.

“If I spend too much time in England, I find my sense of what works at the box office gets undermined,” Bolt says. “It’s not about making movies I would like to see, but that people will pay to see. But what I’m trying to do is not entirely Hollywood — it’s to be an intelligent alternative to Hollywood development, particularly in horror, sci-fi and action. We’re trying to find projects that have a built-in audience.”

Bolt is also waiting to discover the fate of “Slings and Arrows,” a $5 million darts comedy to star hot Brit comic Johnny Vegas, which was in works at FilmFour before its shutdown was announced. He’s hoping the project will still fit within Channel 4’s shrunken filmmaking ambitions.

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