Soderbergh turns a Che double play

Del Toro set to play revolutionary in Guevara pics

Steven Soderbergh is finally ready to make his long-gestating biopic of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara.

And the film’s backers are betting that Guevara, who continues to sell books and T-shirts almost 40 years after his execution in Bolivia, has an aura large enough to sustain two films.

Soderbergh will shoot them back to back, using mostly Spanish dialogue. Production begins next May in Mexico and other South American locations.

Benicio Del Toro will play Guevara, and Javier Bardem, Franka Potente and Benjamin Bratt are in talks to play key roles. Producer is Laura Bickford, who began working on the project with Del Toro and Soderbergh right after they made “Traffic” together.

Lead financier is Paris-based Wild Bunch, which also hung in through twists and turns that included Terrence Malick committing to direct and then dropping out to make “The New World” in 2004. Wild Bunch will co-finance and shop the pictures at AFM.

The films will be made as Spanish co-productions, with Spain-based Morena Films and broadcaster Telecinco in final talks to be co-producers. Combined budget for the pic pair is less than $70 million. Talks are under way with domestic distributors.

Both films pick up after the formative Guevara years captured in the Walter Salles-directed “The Motorcycle Diaries” in 2004.

First film, “The Argentine,” begins as Che and a band of Cuban exiles (led by Fidel Castro) reach the Cuban shore from Mexico in 1956. Within two years, they mobilized popular support and an army and toppled the U.S.-friendly regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The second film, “Guerrilla,” begins with Che’s trip to New York, where he spoke at the United Nations in 1964 and was celebrated in society circles.

Soderbergh has already shot that opening footage with Del Toro and Julia Ormond, who plays TV journo Lisa Howard. Journalist acted as an informal intermediary between the Kennedy White House and Cuba.

Guevara disappeared into the jungles of South America. When he tried to use Bolivia as the catalyst for more revolution, he was captured and executed.

Both scripts were written by Peter Buchman, who, with Del Toro, has been working with a translator to put the dialogue into Spanish.

Filmmakers also have been shooting a companion documentary while researching the film, including interviews with many of those who fought alongside Guevara in Cuba and in Bolivia.

Soderbergh recently completed Europe-set WWII film “The Good German.”

Buchman scripted one of the unmade Alexander the Great pictures and most recently wrote the Fox fantasy film “Eragon” and the currently casting “The Piano Tuner” at Focus.

Along with “Diaries,” Guevara was the subject of another recent pic, 2005’s “Che Guevara,” directed by Josh Evans.

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