Cheadle chooses ‘Blues’

Leonard con artist pic is currently out to scribes

Don Cheadle will make his directorial debut on “Tishomingo Blues,” a Film Four adaptation of the Elmore Leonard bestseller. He might play the flashiest character in the book, as well.

The deal is being wrapped up by Cheadle’s CAA reps, and will mark the second Leonard adaptation he has starred in, after the Steven Soderbergh-directed “Out of Sight.”

The new book revolves around a con artist from Detroit named Robert Taylor, who is trying to take over the Dixie mob’s Gulf Coast drug business, and finds a way in by merit of a circus high diver who witnesses a murder. The drama culminates in the reenactment of a famous Civil War battle, and the style of the book is very much in the humorous vein of “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight.”

Film Four chief executive Paul Webster said the idea of involving Cheadle came because he seemed Taylor-made to play that villain role. Now, Webster said, Cheadle will have to decide whether he wants to star in the film he’ll definitely be directing.

“We were meeting people for that role with Elmore,” Webster said, “and Don came in with the most amazing chutzpah, tells Elmore right up front he hadn’t read the book, and proceeds to charm us all. Then he did read the book, came back with strong responses on how to make it, with great visual imagination.

“You know from the projects he makes that he’s a very discerning guy and I don’t think it will be a big leap for him at all to be a director.”

Cheadle becomes the latest in a growing list of leading men who either have gotten, or plan to get, behind the camera. They include Denzel Washington, who has completed his directing debut on a still-untitled pic based on the life of Antwone Fisher for Fox Searchlight; Clooney, who’s directing and starring in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” for Miramax; and Russell Crowe, who plans to direct and star in an adaptation of WWII drama “The Long Green Shore” for Intermedia and producer Mark Johnson.

“Tishomingo Blues,” which is being produced by Leonard and Michael Siegel, is currently out to writers, with plans to be in production before the year is out. It continues the movie momentum of Film Four, which released “Sexy Beast” and “Birthday Girl” and whose upcoming pics include Danny De Vito-directed “Death To Smoochy” starring Robin Williams and Edward Norton, and “Buffalo Soldiers,” the Gregor Jordan-directed pic starring Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris and Anna Paquin.