Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Chris O’Dowd, who opens today in The Sapphires, is in early talks to join Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in St. Vincent De Van Nuys, the film that Ted Melfi will direct from his script for The Weinstein Company and Chernin Entertainment. O’Dowd will play a sympathetic Catholic priest shocked to see the influence that the title character has on an angelic 12-year-old boy whose hardworking single mother (McCarthy) foists the child care duties on Murray’s character. He is a cantankerous train wreck who takes the kid under his corrupt wing. The project, which Chernin Entertainment developed for two years with Melfi’s Black List script, has been compared to As Good As It Gets or even TWC’s recent Silver Linings Playbook for the way it mixes comedy and human pathos.

Related: Melissa McCarthy To Get Offer For Coveted Female Lead In ‘St. Vincent De Van Nuys’

“The relationship transforms both the man and the boy and even though he teaches the kid everything about his decadent lifestyle, from fighting to drinking, gambling and how to cheat lie and steal,” Melfi told me recently. “And the 12-year-old has such a pure soul that he only extracts the good from all this.” Melfi makes his directorial debut on the $13 million budget movie, and shooting begins in July. The film will be produced by Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping, Melfi, Fred Roos and Don Cheadle, who is producing via Crescendo Prods. TWC production president Dylan Sellers is overseeing it.

If the deal makes, this would be a re-team for O’Dowd and McCarthy, who worked together on Bridesmaids. The actor is also coming out soon in Family Tree and recently played a recurring character on Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls. He’s repped by UTA, 3 Arts and UK-based Donna French.

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