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Helmer Schepisi builds all-star ‘Empire’

Adaptation of Russo novel draws celebs

In a star package rivaling that of its upcoming “Angels in America” project, HBO is near deals for Fred Schepisi to direct Helen Hunt, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ed Harris in “Empire Falls.”

Set in Maine, the adaptation of the Richard Russo novel about the deterioration of an American town begins filming in early fall. Scott Steindorff, Newman and Marc Platt are exec producing the pic. Russo adapted his own novel.

HBO declined comment because all the deals aren’t done, and there is talk that the network may lock in Robin Wright Penn.

Newman, who starred in the Russo novel adaptation “Nobody’s Fool,” has been circling the project for a year. Hunt then locked in. She just completed a six-month stint on Broadway, starring in “Life Times Three” with John Turturro. She was last seen onscreen in “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “What Women Want.”

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