EXCLUSIVE: The life story of illusionist Harry Houdini has long fascinated Hollywood, but nobody has been able to do anything about it. Sony Pictures has Max Landis working his magic on a new draft of Houdini, the film being produced by Jimmy Miller. I’m told that is telling the story with an HP Lovecraft influence. Landis scripted Chronicle, and his subsequent work includes Frankenstein, the Paul McGuigan-directed Fox pic that stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe; and American Ultra, the Nima Nourizadeh-directed film that stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Landis is repped by WME and Circle Of Confusion. This gives new momentum to the pic that was originally scripted by Scott Frank, with Francis Lawrence attached until he went off to do the Hunger Games pics.
The actor apparently has too much on his agenda to take on a starring role in a stage musical. For starters, Paramount is developing the Harlan Coben novel Six Years as a potential star vehicle for Hugh Jackman, and Fox is eyeing another installment of his X-Men spinoff The Wolverine. “I have greatly enjoyed the collaborative process on Houdini,” Jackman said in a statement. “Ultimately, though, I wasn’t able to commit to the time this role will require. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the creative team and I wish everyone the best. I know they’re well on their way to making something extraordinary.” It’s the second high-profile departure from Houdini this year. Back in January, Aaron Sorkin pulled an escape act from the upcoming show in which he was to make his debut as a librettist. He also had to pull out because of scheduling difficulties, less than a month after Jackman boarded the project from composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell).
Given its impeccable track record so far with megahits Hatfields & McCoys and The Bible, a miniseries greenlight at History is big news. The cable channel’s latest long-form project to go into production is Houdini, a four-hour miniseries about the famous magician. Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who had been attached to the mini since the development stage, will play the title character, joined by Kristen Connolly (House Of Cards) as Houdini’s wife Bess. The mini, from Lionsgate and A+E Studios, the recently launched A+E Networks in-house studio headed by Bob DeBitetto, will trace the arc of Houdini’s life from desperate poverty to worldwide fame. Filming is slated to begin this fall. “It’s not magic that History has established a strong track record with its high-quality historical dramas from quality auspices,” said History’s EVP and general manager Dirk Hoogstra. “We’re excited to build on that tremendous momentum with Houdini.” Uli Edel (The Baader Meinhof Complex) will direct Houdini from a script by Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution). Gerald W. Abrams (Nuremberg) and Andras Hamori (Sunshine) will serve as executive producers. Coming up next for History on the miniseries front is the premiere of four-hour Bonnie & Clyde, which the channel is sharing with sibling Lifetime.
EXCLUSIVE: Summit Entertainment is in early negotiations with Dean Parisot to direct the Noah Oppenheim-scripted feature about Harry Houdini that Summit has been developing the project for several years. It’s based on the William Kalush and Larry Sloman book The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America’s First Superhero. The tale paints Houdini as more than a master illusionist: He was a spy and a true renaissance man across the globe. This project had Hunger Games helmer Gary Ross involved for a bit, but he fell off the project. There have been several Houdini projects in development, including at DreamWorks, but like a lot of magic movies, they’ve faltered. I’ll tell you more when I know it. WME-repped Parisot just wrapped the Summit Entertainment sequel Red 2, with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren returning, and Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones among the new castmembers.
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