Casting of Joplin jumpstarts ‘Heart’

Zellweger to play Texas-born singer in Par pic

After years of film companies competing to get a Janis Joplin bio to the bigscreen, Paramount Pictures and Lakeshore are aiming an early 2004 start for “Piece of My Heart,” with Renee Zellweger to star.

The actress will also produce the film with Lakeshore’s Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi.

“Renee has been obsessed with Janis for years and is totally committed to this,” said Rosenberg. “We are looking to quickly bring aboard a writer-director so that this can be the picture she makes after the sequel to ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary.’ ”

Lakeshore has been developing its project for seven years, flirting with Brittany Murphy and Melissa Etheridge to play Joplin, who died at the age of 27 in 1970. Numerous drafts have been written, but Rosenberg and Lucchesi indicated that getting Zellweger makes it a whole new ballgame and that the shooting script will be determined by the actress and the writer-director they hire.

Paramount Pictures chair Sherry Lansing was equally bullish: “Janis Joplin’s life is a story that needs to be told, and there is no one better to portray her than Renee Zellweger.”

Lucchesi said, “Aside from Renee’s talent, it’s a plus that she’s from Texas like Janis was because she can appreciate the courage it took to leave there and go to San Francisco and make a career rather than stay behind and conform to the life her parents were hoping for.”

The CAA-repped Zellweger will next be seen in “Cold Mountain” for Miramax. The film opens Dec. 25.