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Lit biopic tries to go two for Tru

'Infamous' follows Oscar-winning 'Capote' but already packs heat

“The Other Capote.”

That’s not the actual title of the second biopic on author Truman Capote to hit screens in just over a year. But it has been Indiewood’s de facto moniker for Douglas McGrath’s movie, “Infamous,” ever since the pic headed into production mere months after the Philip Seymour Hoffman starring “Capote” in fall 2004.

“Capote” won Hoffman an Oscar. It’s doubtful whether Toby Jones, the actor who plays the role in “Infamous,” will have similar luck.

After shelving “Infamous” for a year, execs at Warner Independent Pictures are hashing out how to distinguish their pic from its Oscar-endorsed predecessor, for an October bow.

Both pics cover the exact same chapter in their subject’s life, when Capote traveled to Kansas to research his masterpiece “In Cold Blood.” “Capote” was based on Gerald Clarke’s book of the same name, while “Infamous” was adapted from George Plimpton’s oral history, “Truman Capote.”

The good news for “Infamous” is that word has begun to bubble up — through crix, fest programmers and Oscar handicappers — that the pic is good. U.K. journo David Thomson recently got gushy, writing, “The best new film I’ve seen this year is about the writer Truman Capote … (‘Infamous’ is) a good deal more unsettling than the version on show in last year’s film.”

Buoyed by such buzz, WIP brass may give domestic auds a peek at the film at the cozy but influential Telluride fest over Labor Day weekend, in advance of the pic’s world preem in Venice.

But whether the pic is a winner may be moot if the studio can’t get auds into theaters for a second helping of the same tale, and more than a few industry vets are scratching their heads over how they’d pull it off.

Hollywood history is littered with pics that have had the misfortune — or, sometimes, serendipity — of being strikingly similar to others.

When Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons” appeared in December 1988, and went on to win a trio of Oscars, “Valmont” — Milos Forman’s version, adapted from the same novel by Choderlos de Laclos — came along a year later only to fizzle.

But when meteor movie “Deep Impact” landed in May 1998 just months before “Armageddon,” the second space rock spectacle came out on top, with $200 million.

Either way, Warner execs say they’re not looking at past showdowns to position “Infamous.” And they’re even counting on “Capote’s” success to create momentum for their film.

“We don’t look at this as a first-film, second-film situation,” says WIP distribution head Steve Friedlander. But the trailer’s tagline — “There is more to the story than you know” — certainly suggests they’re playing with the awareness of a predecessor pic.

“We are not adapting or reacting, and feel that the film will stand or fall on its own merits. We will go a little faster because (‘Capote’) raised awareness. So we don’t have to educate audiences the way we did with ‘Good Night, and Good Luck.'”

Friedlander adds that, because of auds’ familiarity with the Capote story, the distrib will send “Infamous” out on 150-200 screens, hitting the top 40 markets, rather than what would have more likely been a New York and Los Angeles bow that would slowly platform to the top 20.

And the road that “Infamous” will take to theaters is looking quite similar to “Capote”: Both pics will have played Telluride in advance of a major fest berth, and get an autumn release.

“Infamous” helmer McGrath (“Emma,” “Nicholas Nickleby”) — has never seen “Capote,” and kicks off his pic’s production notes by addressing the head-to-head releases: “I felt a word was in order about the unusual situation that exists between my film and ‘Capote’ ” — sees his film as more overtly humorous than “Capote.”

He adds that his pic — which stars Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, Daniel Craig as Perry Smith, Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley and Gwyneth Paltrow in a cameo as Peggy Lee — takes a more in-depth look at Capote’s pre-“Cold Blood” life as the toast of Manhattan’s social scene. The pic opens at society haunt El Morocco, where McGrath describes “caviar is being shoveled out and champagne being poured.”

“This was a gay writer coming from New York penthouse society,” says McGrath. “In Kansas, his care packages included beluga caviar. People there called him ma’am. Not man, but ma’am. I don’t see how you can tell that story without part of it being funny. He shows up (in Kansas) in moccasins, a sheepskin coat and an orange scarf to the ground. This seemed like high comedy in the making. A good part of this picture is quite amusing.”

WIP says it will play up such angles.

“They’re different takes,” says Laura Kim, WIP’s marketing and PR head. “It’s the same period of time, but this is a different stylistic take. In any marketing materials, you are trying to make (the film) as entertaining as possible.”

The “Infamous” filmmakers are in the awkward position of distancing themselves from “Capote,” while at the same time hoping that the first film’s success is a catalyst for audience interest in the subject.

“I was always nervous about the other film,” admits McGrath, who made the pic for Killer Films and John Wells Prods.

“But none of us ever wished them ill. I respect their taste in material, and it validates the choice of subject matter. But we are coming at it from two different ways. There’s more than enough material. I bet Dan Futterman had the same issue. There’s so much stuff to get in there.”

But will auds come back for more?

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