Dunst out of ‘Woods’

Howard to make bow in Shyamalan's next project

After losing Kirsten Dunst for the female lead in “The Woods,” M. Night Shyamalan has chosen a relative babe in the woods to replace her.

Making her feature starring debut is Bryce Dallas Howard, a 21-year-old with good stage credits and a pedigree for exhibiting acting talent at a young age: Her father is actor-turned-director Ron Howard.

Howard will co-star in Shyamalan’s Disney thriller alongside Ashton Kutcher and Joaquin Phoenix. Set in 1897, pic is the story of a close-knit community and a mythical race of creatures residing in the nearby forest.

Produced by Scott Rudin and Sam Mercer, “The Woods” shoots in October in Philadelphia. Pic has a strong romance element not evident in Shyamalan films “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” and Shyamalan originally chose Dunst.

They never closed a deal, and it appears that the actress instead will topline the untitled next film by “Jerry Maguire” helmer Cameron Crowe, once she completes Sony’s sequel to “Spider-Man” and the Universal tennis drama “Wimbledon.”

That left the director to ponder other choices. Since leaving the undergraduate drama program at NYU last spring, Howard signed with Innovative Artists and has begun getting showy stage roles in New York. She was in “Tartuffe” at the Roundabout Theater, “Our Town” at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor and “House and Garden” at the Manhattan Theater Club. She also played the role of Rosalind in “As You Like It” at the Public Theater.

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