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Steven Spielberg, Javier Bardem, Steve Zaillian Circle Montezuma-Cortez Epic From Script By Blacklisted Writer Dalton Trumbo

Mike Fleming

Steven SpielbergEXCLUSIVE: One of the most compelling movie questions coming into 2014 is, what film will Steven Spielberg direct? I don’t know if this is next or far down the line, but here is a tantalizing possibility: I’m told that he has his sights on Montezuma, an epic tale of the kinship and ultimately the bloody collision between Montezuma and Cortez as the latter led the Spanish infiltration into Mexico. I’ve heard that Javier Bardem has sparked to playing the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez, and that the catalyst here is a nearly 50-year old script by Dalton Trumbo that is being rewritten by Steve Zaillian, who teamed with Spielberg on the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List.

Zaillian is boarding this project as producer, likely alongside Spielberg and his DreamWorks team. The rights are now controlled by DreamWorks, but Zaillian’s first look deal is at Fox and I don’t know if a team-up there is in the works. Zaillian is currently producing the Moses epic Exodus for Fox, with Ridley Scott directing Christian Bale in the lead role.

"Skyfall" Royal World Premiere - ArrivalsThis project could be retitled Cortez, since the viewpoint will be from the latter character to be played by fellow Spaniard Bardem. The project, considered one of the great unmade scripts in moviedom, has an illustrious history. Trumbo wrote it for actor/producer Kirk Douglas, with whom he did the classics Spartacus and Lonely Are the Brave. Trumbo turned in a 205-page draft in 1965, when Martin Ritt was supposed to direct Douglas in the film. It never happened. Read More »

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Fox And Film Rites Win ‘Red Sparrow’ Spy Thriller Auction

By | Thursday April 25, 2013 @ 11:59am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After a spirited bidding battle involving multiple studios, 20th Century Fox has just closed a 7-figure deal for film rights to the international spy thriller Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. Film RitesSteve Zaillian and Garrett Basch will produce. The book sold to Scribner in a similarly vigorous publishing auction last year. It will be published in June.

The book is set in contemporary Russia, and state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash. He is a first-tour CIA officer who handles the agency’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and inevitably, a sexual attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow. Dominika winds up seeking revenge against her soulless masters, and living a fatal double life after she is recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington. She also hunts down a Russian illegal buried deep in the U.S. military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Vladimir Putin’s intelligence service. Fox’s Kira Goldberg was instrumental in securing the rights. ICM Partners repped the author and brokered the deal.

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Roger Ebert Memoir To Become Doc From Martin Scorsese And Steve Zaillian, Helmed By ‘Hoop Dreams’ Steve James

By | Friday September 7, 2012 @ 4:38pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Martin Scorsese and Steve Zaillian are teaming to produce a documentary on Roger Ebert inspired by the film critic’s 2011 memoir Life Itself. Steve James, who directed the doc Hoop Dreams, will helm it. Garrett Basch is producing, Scorsese via his Sikelia banner and Zaillian via Film Rites are exec producing, and James’ Kartemquin Films also will produce in some capacity. Ebert has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun Times since l967 and on TV for four decades, and he was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. His personal life, detailed in the book, include bouts with alcohol and thyroid cancer that cost the critic his voice and parts of his jaw and shoulder. Despite that he remains a vital voice in the film world and has more than 700,000 Twitter followers. “Roger’s life has so much to say about movies over the last 30 to 40 years. And as his memoir makes so clear, his story is also one of great personal struggle and triumph. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Steve and Marty to tell this poignant and entertaining life story.” Ebert was repped in the deal by IPG’s Joel Gotler and Brian Lipson.

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20th Century Fox Spins ‘Wool’ For Scott Free And Film Rites

By | Friday May 11, 2012 @ 7:11pm PDT
Mike Fleming

BREAKING: I’m hearing that 20th Century Fox is the frontrunner to acquire Wool, a self-published e-book that has become an internet sensation and is being called the sci-fi version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free are partnering on the deal with Film Rites’ Steve Zaillian and Garrett Basch. Producer credits are still being worked out, but they will include Scott Free’s Elisha Holmes and Michael Costigan. Fox’s Steve Asbell will oversee it.

There has been something of a stampede of bidders, including Lionsgate, for a book was written by Hugh Howey. Wool is about a dystopian future where the last inhabitants on earth band together in safe bunkers called silos. No one is allowed outside until a secret is discovered that could change the course of humanity, as well as reveal its devastating past. Bidders sparked to the book and the grassroots groundswell of reader interest reminiscent of Fifty Shades Of Grey, which sold for a fortune to Universal.  UTA is repping the book on behalf of Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency and attorney Wayne Alexander.

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Chris Terrio To Write ‘A Murder Foretold’ For Paramount And Indian Paintbrush

By | Thursday October 13, 2011 @ 1:15pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount and Indian Paintbrush have hired Chris Terrio to write A Murder Foretold, the fact-based drama based on the David Grann  article in the April 4 issue of The New Yorker about a series of high-level murders in Guatemala. The film will be produced by Film Rites’ Steve Zaillian and Garrett Basch and Indian Paintbrush’s Steven Rales and Mark Roybal. Terrio is coming off Argo, the Ben Affleck-directed drama that is currently in production at Warner Bros. I’m told Terrio will script A Murder Foretold before getting started on an adaptation of the Harlan Coben novel Tell No One, which was previously turned into a French film.

A Murder Foretold takes place in a country devastated by killings routinely perpetrated by everyone from secret police to drug dealers. Rodrigo Rosenberg, a wealthy businessman who watched his wife-to-be get assassinated along with her father, was later gunned down while riding his bicycle. His murder stirred up an entire country frustrated by the endless waves of violence, sometimes involving corrupt government officials. At his funeral, Rosenberg had an intermediary disperse copies of a videocassette he had recorded himself, one that implicated the president, his wife, and other close aides in his killing. A special prosecutor was appointed, and he followed a trail of clues that led to an unbelievable conclusion and a real crackdown on violence in Guatemala. The project sold in a multi-studio bidding battle last April. Grann and … Read More »

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Toronto: Where Are The Film Deals?

Mike Fleming

Just as it did last year, the 2011 Toronto Film Festival has gotten off to a slow start on the acquisitions front. I spoke with many buyers after last night’s onslaught of acquisition title premieres, and the common feeling was these distributors need to fill slots in their schedules and they want to fall in love, but haven’t quite gotten there yet with most of these films. They had some reservations on just about all of the films they saw. These films will clearly find distribution homes, but the reaction means that deals will drag out because those distributors aren’t going to be posting large minimum guarantees, the way they did in Cannes.

Even the big sale of the festival so far, the Steve McQueen-directed NC-17 sex drama Shame, wasn’t a huge commitment for all the press hoopla that followed Deadline’s reveal that the film had sold to Fox Searchlight. I am hearing the deal was a mid-six figure minimum guarantee around $400,000, and a P&A commitment around $1.5 million. That sounds about right, because the filmmakers were most concerned with entering this year’s Oscar race to capitalize on the performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, and ensuring that not a frame of the picture was changed. But it doesn’t sound like a wide release picture.

As for the wide release titles, they are going to sell, but it will be a struggle for sellers to get the dollars they want. I saw one of those titles that sit atop buyer lists last night. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was scripted by Simon Beaufoy, directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked, the latter playing a wealthy sheik who pays a fisheries scientist to stock a stream with trout. The film is sophisticated, funny, timely and utterly charming, and I would be surprised if it isn’t snapped up by Monday or sooner. That film got the best reaction from the buyers I spoke with. The pace of auctioning has been complicated by the volume of premieres last night, including Rampart, Take This Waltz, The Oranges, the hockey comedy Goon and the Morgan Spurlock-directed documentary Comic-Con: A Fan’s Hope. Buyers had to make choices, and some were seeing films like Salmon this morning. I expect a flurry of deals toward the end of the festival, which is how it played out last year.

Since there’s little going on so far, you have time to notice things. Here are a few things I’ve noticed: Read More »

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Disney, Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Turn ‘Quantum Hoops’ Doc Into Comedy About Caltech Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Disney has acquired remake rights to Quantum Hoops, the 2007 documentary that followed the 2006 Caltech basketball team that had 21 seasons and 245 conference games without a single win, routinely getting walloped by 60 points or more. Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld’s Red Hour will produce a comedy based on the story of a group of brainiacs — future political and industrial titans — who tried to overcome a lack of athletic skills by getting an exiled NCAA coach to lead their team to what seemed for two decades an impossible dream: one in the W column. The script will be written by Stan Chervin, who was the first writer to adapt Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (Chervin emerged from an arbitration with story credit, while screen credit on the upcoming Brad Pitt film went to Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.) Red Hour’s Erica Steinberg brought in the project and will be executive producer along with Brian Truman, Jeremy Platt and the doc’s director, Rick Greenwald. ICM brokered the rights deal to the documentary and repped Chervin.

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MRC Buys Black Hole Thriller For Cronenberg

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Media Rights Capital has made a pre-emptive acquisition of the Jonathan Lethem novel As She Climbed Across the Table, in a package that has David Cronenberg directing, Bruce Wagner writing and Film Rites’ Steve Zaillian and Garrett Basch producing. Lethem is the author of Motherless Brooklyn.

The novel is a love triangle among an academic, his particle-physicist girlfriend, and the black hole that comes as the result of her lab experiments to replicate the origins of the universe. The physicist dumps her boyfriend to spend all her time with the black hole — which she calls Lack — and the university professor will do anything to win her back, even confronting his rival for her affections and risking a trip down a cosmic rabbit hole. The premise has comedic and thriller elements, and Film Rites brought it first to Cronenberg, who has covered dangerous and creepy obsessions in films ranging from The Fly to Crash and Dead Ringers. The film reteams Cronenberg with Wagner. Cronenberg was exec producer on Wagner’s adaptation of his own novel, I’m Losing You. Read More »

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UPDATE: Not-As-Hot Trailer: ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’

Mike Fleming

UPDATE, WEDNESDAY AM: Sony has released an “official” green-band trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, after the slightly less tame red-band one we had for you over the weekend was taken down all over the Internet by the studio, which claimed it was unauthorized. Publicity ploy or no, the new one is below, and it still looks pretty darn good.

PREVIOUS, SUNDAY AM: Sony Pictures has produced its first red band trailer for the David Fincher-directed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the Scott Rudin-produced, Steve Zaillian-scripted adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel that stars Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Robin Wright. Seems worth the wait, no?

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Script Delays Puts ‘Star Trek’ Sequel Before Jack Ryan For Chris Pine And Paramount

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has scrapped a tentative plan for Chris Pine to resuscitate the Jack Ryan franchise before he reprises his James T. Kirk role in a Star Trek sequel. The slow process of nailing the Ryan script has prompted the studio to focus on getting Pine at the helm of the USS Enterprise first, even as the studio waits to see if JJ Abrams will reprise as Trek director.

This comes after the Ryan picture suffered another creative setback. Steve Zaillian, who wrote the 1994 Ryan film Clear and Present Danger and did uncredited rewrite work on Patriot Games, made a deal last month to rewrite the reboot script but had a change of heart and withdrew within the last two weeks. The studio has begun interviewing other writers. Lost‘s Jack Bender is still aboard to direct, but he isn’t pay or play and could walk. Lorenzo di Bonaventura is producing. Ryan was created by Tom Clancy in his bestselling book series, but the new film is an origin story that started with screenwriter Hossein Amini. Paramount then acquired the Adam Cozad spec script Dubai and hired Cozad to redraft it to be the Ryan relaunch. Anthony Peckham then came on to do a pass, and then Cozad was brought back to a project that by then was being called Moscow. The launching point of the film is one that gets a mention in Clancy’s The Read More »

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Producer Scott Rudin Joins Martin Scorsese’s Frank Sinatra Biopic At Universal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Scott Rudin to produce Sinatra, the film Martin Scorsese will direct about the life of singer-actor Frank Sinatra. Rudin joins Mandalay’s Peter Guber and Cathy Schulman, who brought in the project to the studio almost two years ago after they secured life and music rights from Frank Sinatra Enterprises, which is a joint venture of the estate of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Warner Music Group. Phil Alden Robinson had been the original writer, but I’m told they are looking for another scribe. Scorsese’s Sikelia is also producing as is Tina Sinatra.

Rudin, nominated twice in the Best Picture Oscar race this year for producing The Social Network and True Grit, produced the 1999 Scorsese-directed Bringing Out the Dead. Rudin’s currently producing the David Fincher-directed  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which Steve Zaillian adapted from the Stieg Larsson novel, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the Stephen Daldry-directed adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel that stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. He is prepping at Paramount the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Dictator, and at Universal he’s got the Paul Greengrass-directed Martin Luther King Jr.  assassination drama Memphis. Read More »

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‘True Grit’ Co-Financier Skydance Targets ‘Star Blazers’ For Christopher McQuarrie

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: David Ellison’s Skydance Productions is negotiating a rights deal to turn the 1970s animated science fiction TV series Star Blazers into a large scale live action feature. Ellison will hire Christopher McQuarrie to write the script, with Ellison and Josh C. Kline producing with McQuarrie. The series was based on the Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato. Both are described as “space opera,” involving alien invasions, the near extinction of the human race, and a last dash journey through space to save the planet.

Ellison started Skydance with hopes he could emulate the studio-aligned-producer-who-can-put-up-50% model that Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures has succeeded with at Warner Bros. Ellison made a deal with Paramount Pictures in late 2009 to co-finance four to six pictures per year, and then raised a reported $350 million in debt and equity funding. His Paramount deal has gotten off to a flying start: Skydance funded half of True Grit, the $30 million Joel and Ethan Coen-directed Western that is up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. More importantly to Ellison’s investors, True Grit has so far grossed $165 million domestic, with foreign still rolling out.

Ellison is the son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison and an accomplished acrobatic pilot who has a particular appetite for aviation projects (though his first foray as actor-producer, the Tony Bill-directed Flyboys, landed … Read More »

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Michel Gondry Meets His Quirky Sensibility Match In Philip K. Dick

Mike Fleming

Michel Gondry is adapting and is attached to direct Ubik, the legendary book by scifi author Philip K. Dick. Steve Zaillian and Steve Golin are producing through Film Rites and Anonymous Content, with Golin putting up the financing for development until they shop to studios. (Zaillian’s Film Rites has its first look through DreamWorks, so the project could end up there.) The book was called one of the 100 greatest novels of all-time by Time Magazine. Film Rites’ Garrett Basch will be exec producer. The book is a metaphysical comedy of death and salvation, revolving around dead characters who give business advice, plan their next incarnation, and risk dying once again.

The late author, whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep was turned into Blade Runner, next has The Adjustment Bureau coming with George Nolfi directing Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, and a remake of Total Recall in the works with Colin Farrell starring for director Len Wiseman.

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Goran Visnjic Joins ‘Dragon Tattoo’

Mike Fleming

Former ER star Goran Visnjic has signed on to play Dragan Armansky in Sony Pictures’ The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the David Fincher-directed adaptation of the Stieg Larsson bestseller. Visjnic’s character, the CEO of a security firm that employs Lisbeth Salander, is part of the entire trilogy and the actor has signed on for all three films. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star in the Steve Zaillian-scripted film, and Scott Rudin is producing. Visnjic, who was a frontrunner for the James Bond role that went to Craig, most recently completed the Mike Mills-directed Beginners and starred in the BBC miniseries The Deep. He’s repped by WME and Management 360.

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Steve Zaillian On To Rewrite Jack Ryan

By | Wednesday February 2, 2011 @ 11:59am PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Steve Zaillian is being brought aboard by Paramount to rewrite the new Jack Ryan film. Chris Pine will play Ryan in the Tom Clancy-created series, and Lost‘s Jack Bender is directing. Lorenzo di Bonaventura is producing.

The project till now has been referred to as Moscow, but the film doesn’t yet have a formal title or a start date. It’s an original and not based on one of the Clancy books, but I gather that the launching point of the film is discussed in Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, both the book and the original film that starred Alec Baldwin. It has to do with a terrifying helicopter crash that nearly killed Ryan when he was a 23-year old platoon leader in the US Marines. He was the only member of the platoon to survive.

The hope is to start production this year. Zaillian knows the Ryan lore very well. He scripted the 1994 Jack Ryan film Clear and Present Danger, the last film that starred Harrison Ford. I’m told he also did a major uncredited rewrIte on Patriot Games, the first film Ford did after replacing Baldwin. Paramount has used a number of scribes to get this far with an origin story about the beginnings of Jack Ryan. It started with Hossein Amini. That didn’t work out. Then, Paramount acquired Dubai, an original spec script by Adam Cozad that Cozad redrafted to be the Ryan relaunch. … Read More »

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DreamWorks Acquires ‘Time Crimes’ Which Steve Zaillian Now Re-Writing

By | Tuesday January 18, 2011 @ 3:22pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Time Crimes, the remake of the 2007 Spanish time travel film, has been moved by Steve Zaillian from United Artists to DreamWorks. Zaillian, who’d set it up at UA to produce, has also committed to rewrite the script. Tim Sexton wrote the early drafts, with Zaillian overseeing as producer along with Agnes Mentre. Zaillian’s Film Rites has a first look deal at DreamWorks. He takes on the writing job after a productive period where he adapted the Stieg Larsson novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for David Fincher and Scott Rudin at Sony Pictures Entertainment and made a deal to write the followup, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Zaillian has the Bennett Miller-directed Moneyball coming next fall with Brad Pitt. And The Irishman, Zaillian’s scripted adaptation of the mob memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, is shaping up as a film Martin Scorsese will direct, with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci starring.

Time Crimes is an intricate science fiction thriller in which a man repeatedly goes back in time an hour in an attempt to alter the events of a crime. Film Rites’ Garrett Basch will be executive producer along with Eduardo Carneros Gonzalez and Nacho Vigalondo. Vigalondo wrote and directed the original, released under the title Los Cronocrimenes. Zaillian’s repped by WME. Below is a trailer from the original film:

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Al Pacino And Joe Pesci Circling Martin Scorsese And Robert De Niro Mob Movie

By | Monday September 13, 2010 @ 2:50pm PDT
Mike Fleming

It’s Goodfellas meets Casino meets Heat. So if you’re a fan of those great crime movies, get ready: I’m told Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are now circling The Irishman, the mob drama that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have been working on together based on the exploits of mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran as chronicled in the book I Heard You Paint Houses. The pic’s being developed at Paramount by De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Productions.

Pacino has worked with De Niro in the Michael Mann-directed classic Heat, as well as Righteous Kill. Pesci and De Niro of course teamed with Scorsese on Goodfellas, Casino and Raging Bull. Steve Zaillian wrote the script.

Right now, Scorsese’s off directing the 3D Hugh Cabret for GK Films, and this is one of a couple pictures he’s considering next. Others include Silence, based on the Shusako Endo novel. Scorsese and GK Films nearly had the pic together with Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gabriel Garcia Bernal in the Jay Cocks-scripted saga of Jesuits who face danger as they preach Christianity and try to find their mentor in 17th Century Japan. Scorsese will be in New York Wednesday as HBO premieres the pilot he directed for Boardwalk Empire, which is superb.

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Sony Starts Talks With Steve Zaillian To Script ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Entertainment has begun deal talks with Steve Zaillian to adapt The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment of the Millennium Trilogy of crime novels written by Stieg Larsson. Zaillian adapted The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which SPE puts into production this fall after director David Fincher and producer Scott Rudin end the well-publicized search for an actress to play the troubled genius computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Like Daniel Craig, that actress will sign a deal with two options covering The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Craig is playing journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
Read More »

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Sony Pictures Skeds ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ – But Two Leads Not Set Yet

Mike Fleming

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattooEXCLUSIVE… UPDATE: The plot is thickening on the David Fincher-directed adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the internationally hot Stieg Larsson mystery novel. Of course, with the Swedish film version having made $100+M worldwide so far this year, many quarters are predicting that Sony Pictures will screw up the Hollywood version. Today, the studio set a December 21, 2011 release date for the film — even though the two leads are not locked in. The studio continues talking with Daniel Craig to play publisher Mikael Blomkvist, but sources tell me there’s a scheduling problem for him involving the long delayed next Bond pic and Cowboys & Aliens.

The studio is also signing test deals with a group of young actresses dying to play the complex role of Lisbeth Salander. While Carey Mulligan, Ellen Page, and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) have been mentioned as possible Lisbeth candidates, I’m told others include Emily Browning (Sucker Punch), Sara Snook (Sleeping Beauty), Rooney Mara (The Social Network) and Sophie Lowe (Blame). Some have submitted their own tapes to director David Fincher already, while others will test shortly for the role. It’s a process similar to the one Sony orchestrated before choosing Andrew Garfield to play Spider-Man. Meanwhile, I hear Fincher is telling actresses to working on their Swedish accents, which indicates the novel may not Americanized. The book was adapted by Steve Zaillian and is being produced by Scott Rudin, who just worked with Fincher on … Read More »

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