Dueling divas at D’Works

Spielberg eyes 'Rivals' as a possible directing vehicle

In a seven-figure spec script buy made personally by Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks has preemptively purchased “The Rivals,” a drama about the catfight between 19th century stage stars Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse.

Robin Swicord wrote the script, and Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen will produce. Spielberg is eyeing it as a possible directing vehicle.

The French actress Bernhardt ruled the stages in the late 19th century, until the Italian-born Duse came along with youth and a more natural style. So heated was the diva competition that the actresses would play the same part in the same show on different nights, with critics and socialites turning out twice to compare. The rivalry carried over to romance and the social circle as well.

Project grew from a suggestion from acting teacher Susan Batson, who took it to producer Carl Rumbaugh. He brought it to Jinks and Cohen, the Oscar-winning “American Beauty” duo. They researched the rivalry and enlisted Swicord, best known for scripting “Little Women,” “Practical Magic” and “Matilda,” the latter of which she wrote with husband Nick Kazan. Swicord wrote the project on spec. The Jinks/Cohen Co. has a first-look deal at DreamWorks, and they brought the script directly to Spielberg.

Swicord’s UTA reps made the seven-figure deal on a project that Jinks said had a lot of comedic and moving moments amid the cat fighting. Batson and Rumbaugh will be involved in producing capacities as well.

Jinks and Cohen said they are pressing Spielberg to direct the film but acknowledged that there is always a line for his services. After he next directs Tom Hanks in “Terminal,” Spielberg has several directing possibilities, including a remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Jim Carrey.

Jinks, Cohen and Richard Zanuck thought they’d hooked Spielberg to direct “Big Fish” only to lose him. They luckily hooked another big fish in Tim Burton, who completed photography and is editing.

Jinks and Cohen just opened “Down With Love,” and they will begin production in October on Revolutions “The Forgotten,” a Joseph Ruben-directed thriller with Julianne Moore. They also just set up the Kazan-scripted “Us” at MGM in another seven-figure deal.

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