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Patient Oz producer back

Up-and-coming Cornish to topline 'Candy'

SYDNEY — Vet producer Margaret Fink has a sharp eye for new talent, an obsession with good writing and almost infinite patience.

Those qualities have sustained her in a career that stretches back to “The Removalists,” a 1975 Oz pic based on a David Williamson play.

Her latest project, “Candy,” adapted from a Luke Davies novel, will be her first to go into production since the 1988 miniseries “Eden’s Lost.”

Due to roll in Sydney Jan. 20, pic stars Heath Ledger and up-and-comer Abbie Cornish as lovers who embark on a journey of lust, addiction and self-destruction. Supporting cast is headed by Geoffrey Rush, Garry McDonald and Noni Hazlehurst.

Fink, who is producing with Emile Sherman, optioned the novel, Davies’ first, in 1998, and showed it to director Neil Armfield, a close friend with whom she had wanted to work again after they collaborated on “Eden’s Lost.”

“You can’t say I’m not patient,” says Fink, who launched the careers of thesps Judy Davis and Sam Neill as well as director Gillian Armstrong when she produced “My Brilliant Career” in 1979.

Armfield immediately sparked to the material as a “metaphor for life.” Initially, Fink wanted Toni Collette to play the lead female, who’s in her early 20s. Collette was keen but as the years passed grew too old to play the character.

Subsequently, the producer suggested Cornish, who had impressed her in the 1997 ABC-TV drama series “Wildside.” Armfield wasn’t convinced but was won over by Cornish’s performance in “Somersault,” which won a record 13 Australian Film Institute Awards last month.

Securing Ledger was a “pipe dream,” says Fink, who admired his work in “Monster’s Ball” and Oz caper “Two Hands.” A meeting between the thesp and Armfield on location in Europe clinched his commitment.

Distrib Dendy pre-bought Australian rights and Renaissance signed on to rep the $5 million-budgeted pic internationally, and Dendy chiefs Richard Payten and Andrew Mackie agreed to serve as exec producers.

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