Taylor Hackford will direct Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci in “Love Ranch,” a drama about a couple who opened the first legal brothel in Nevada and the violence that resulted when their relationship was tested by infidelity.

Capitol Films will fully finance. Filming begins in late January in Albuquerque, N.M., and Hackford will look for a domestic distributor after the movie is complete. He hopes to have it ready in time to be submitted for the Toronto Film Festival.

Hackford last directed “Ray.”

Mark Jacobson, whose New York magazine article formed the basis for “American Gangster,” wrote the “Love Ranch” screenplay. Hackford, Lou DiBella, Capitol’s David Bergstein and Marty Katz will produce.

Hackford said the drama is inspired by the story of Joe and Sally Conforte, proprietors of the Mustang Ranch, the first legalized house of prostitution in Nevada. Boxer Oscar Bonavena was gunned down at the ranch in 1976, suspected of having an affair with the madam Sally.

Pic will reteam the director with Mirren, his wife, for the first time since they did 1985’s “White Nights.”

“I’ve developed this project for a long time, and one of the things that excited me most was the chance to work again with my wife,” Hackford said. “I had to beg; she’s a very busy girl. We’d wanted to work together for some time, but she wouldn’t agree unless it was a great role, and this is a great role.”

Hackford was also glad to coax back Pesci, who played a small role in “The Good Shepherd” but hasn’t starred in a movie since “Lethal Weapon 4” in 1999.

“Joe didn’t have any desire to work, but he was the first person I had in mind to play the husband, this former cab driver who dreamed of making prostitution legal and carved out a tiny county and convinced the local politicians,” Hackford said. “He’s playing the godfather of legalized prostitution, and it convinced Joe to jump back into the fire.”

Hackford is working hard to find an actor to play the boxer, an effort that will be helped by co-producer DiBella, a prominent fight promoter.

Mirren, who recently completed “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” will start “Love Ranch” after she completes the Kevin Macdonald-directed “State of Play,” for Universal. Mirren will next be seen in New Line’s “Inkheart.”

Hackford will complete the movie before making his stage-directing debut on a musical based on the 1992 Steve Martin film “Leap of Faith.” That project is aimed to hit Broadway in spring 2009.