Leo may be great for Alexander epic

Luhrmann prepares to conquer Stone

Director Baz Luhrmann is drafting his “Romeo & Juliet” star Leonardo DiCaprio to topline his Alexander the Great epic, which Dino De Laurentiis is producing and Universal and Fox are co-financing.

De Laurentiis confirmed that negotiations are under way with DiCaprio, a development that has ramifications for four separate projects competing to be first to the starting line.

While the young man who once declared himself king of the world in “Titanic” is now poised to play the Macedonian master of the universe, Intermedia execs claim they are moving forward with Oliver Stone as director of a film that has wunderkind Colin Farrell ready and able to portray the charismatic conqueror in a movie they say will also go into production early next year. Each of these movies could cost $140 million, and with stakes that high, it’s likely that the film that begins shooting first will be the only one that gets made.

At the same time, the DiCaprio negotiation enlivens the race to see who makes a movie about billionaire aviator-turned recluse Howard Hughes. DiCaprio had been expected to play Hughes for his “Gangs of New York” director Martin Scorsese in “The Aviator,” a John Logan-scripted film at Intermedia that Michael Mann and Sandy Climan are producing.

That film had been awaiting a domestic partner and seemed inches from a greenlight. If DiCaprio instead goes the toga route, that delay creates an opportunity for the rival project set up at Castle Rock. “Memento” maker Chris Nolan is writing it as a vehicle for Jim Carrey.

Aside from a Ted Tally script and the visual genius behind “Moulin Rouge,” De Laurentiis is counting on a commitment of support from Mohammed VI, the 39-year-old king of Morocco. The producer and director will meet the king on Sept. 6, and Mohammed VI is expected to provide his personal army of 5,000 men and 1,000 horses to stage war scenes.

De Laurentiis and Luhrmann are teaming together to build a studio to house the sets for the movie, which will be shot in Ouarzazate, near the gateway to the Sahara desert. Stone has been equally vigilant in scouting locations for his film, an epic he’s plotted for at least seven years, once with Tom Cruise expected to play the role. Intermedia, which is coming off a costly failure in “K-19: The Widowmaker,” has been trying to secure a domestic distribution partner to help pay for the film.

Other versions out

The sexually charged saga of one of history’s most charismatic leaders has long held allure for Hollywood, and until a few months ago, no fewer than four versions were plotted. One, a 10-part $120 miniseries for HBO by Mel Gibson’s Icon, was scratched after Gibson pulled out. Also halted was an Initial Entertainment Group project that once had DiCaprio and Scorsese attached and a script by Christopher McQuarrie. IEG is now a sister company to Intermedia, and it is risky enough for one company to sponsor a single Alexander film.

The players involved in either film are quick to knock the rival. While Luhrmann says he’s poised to begin production in early 2003, naysayers point out that the director is preoccupied with bringing “La Boheme” to Broadway in late December and that he’ll need a few months beyond that to get the film rolling. Naysayers on the Stone film are doubting that Intermedia will mount another epic after “K-19,” and with so much money on the table on the $170 million “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Stay tuned.

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