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German B.O. king sizes up U.S.

Schweiger set to produce, helm stateside pic

BERLIN — Til Schweiger, Germany’s reigning king of romantic comedy and the country’s biggest box office draw, may not be out to rob Boston’s Fenway Park, but he’d certainly love to take a bite out of the U.S. box office.

Schweiger is getting deadly serious as he tackles a new genre and sets out to produce and direct his first U.S. film — a remake of his German-language actioner “Schutzengel” (The Guardians), which is shooting in Berlin and next heads to the British seaside town of Brighton for additional filming. Schweiger plans to develop and produce the new version Stateside with U.S. partners next year via his Berlin-based Barefoot Films, which he runs with producer Tom Zickler.

Schweiger credits Ben Affleck’s Boston-set “The Town,” which he calls “the best American film in years,” as his inspiration to take the leap into new territory.

Already a big fan of “Gone Baby Gone,” Schweiger was so bowled over by the “The Town,” and how it dealt with morality and justice, that he decided to try his hand at a serious action drama.

Budgeted at $10 million, “The Guardians” centers on a troubled former elite soldier, played by Schweiger, who protects a teenage orphan, the only witness to a murder, from assassins. The film is also a kind of love story between two emotionally damaged people, says Schweiger, who is confident his story will appeal to American as well as German auds.

Schweiger has offered a key role in the film to Billy Bob Thornton — that of a wheelchair-bound former soldier and the main character’s best friend. Moritz Bleibtreu plays the part in the original. The pic will include other American cast members, and will feature Schweiger’s 15-year-old daughter Luna, who is making her debut, in a leading role.

“I asked Luna… what she thought (of the script) and she said, ‘It’s really cool, Dad,’ ” he says.

A father of four, Schweiger also co-starred with his youngest daughter Emma Tiger in “Kokowaah,” which earned some $40 million at the German box office, making it 2011’s most successful domestic pic and a major hit for Warner Bros.

Warners, which is releasing the German version of “The Guardians” domestically Sept. 27, may also board the U.S. version. Berlin-based A Company has already picked up rights for Russia, where Schweiger also enjoys major box office clout.

The pics marks a change of pace for the multihyphenate, who has enjoyed huge success with a string of romantic comedies in recent years, including the “Rabbit Without Ears” franchise and “Kokowaah.”

Schweiger notes Germany has yet to produce solid bigscreen action fare, but is quick to add: “Action alone doesn’t work in Germany — you need an emotional element to the story.”

He co-wrote the film with combat advisor Paul Maurice (who coached Tom Hardy and Chris Pine on hand-to-hand combat and weapons proficiency in “This Means War,” in which Schweiger also stars) and Stephen Butchard.

But Germany isn’t the only territory where Schweiger’s films top the box office; he’s also a huge star in Russia.

“We have great expectations and are very positive about the film in light of how similar genres work in Russia,” says A Company CEO Alexander van Duelmen, who handles most of Schweiger’s films in the country.

Schweiger has enjoyed a massive following in Russia since 1998, when he made a huge splash with road movie “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Schweiger’s 2009 “Rabbit Without Ears 2” not only went on to become his biggest hit at the Russian box office, taking in $1.47 million, but also is the most successful German film ever released in Russia. His “films appeal to the Russian sense of humor and romance,” says van Duelmen.

Before he gets started on the remake of “Guardian,” Schweiger will first shoot “Kokowaah 2” and make his debut as a Hamburg detective on German television’s long-running crime drama “Tatort.” For Schweiger, it seems, there are lots of towns to conquer.

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