Producer Scott Rudin reveals to Deadline that “we’re pretty close” to pinning down a director for his mega-high-profile Sony Pictures 3D movie Cleopatra starring Angelina Jolie and based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff’s biography Cleopatra: A Life. Rudin isn’t spilling but we hear that the filmmakers “like the idea” of the much respected Paul Greengrass although his name hasn’t even been mentioned yet to Angie who’s attached. Greengrass, who helmed the most recent two Bourne franchise action thrillers as well as Green Zone and United 93. He also flirted with doing the 3D Fantastic Voyage for producer James Cameron, who himself flirted with directing the 3D Cleopatra for Rudin. Love it when these things come full circle. We’re obsessed with this project and think Greengrass would be an intriguing hire, perhaps less about spectacle and more about story. “Smart, tough, political, hard-nosed…,” an insider described the director to Deadline. “Sort of the idea of Cleopatra in the book.” Not a bad thing considering that the last time Hollywood tried that subject of Cleopatra on a grand scale, back in 1963, it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.
So why will this version fare better? “It is a completely revisionist Cleopatra, a much more grown-up sophisticated version,” Rudin recently told Mike Fleming. “She’s not a sex kitten, she’s a politician, strategist, warrior. In the Joseph Mankiewicz movie, Elizabeth Taylor is a seductress, but the histories of Cleopatra have been written by men. This is the first to be written by a woman. It felt like such a blow-the-doors-off-the-hinges idea of how to tell it, impossible to resist. We’re pretty close. A lot of directors want to do it, but there is only a handful we’ll make it with.” Of course, Cameron was seriously discussing Rudin’s pic before taking that huge deal at Fox to direct the two Avatar sequels. Did Rudin feel leveraged? “No,” he tells Fleming. “I’ve been a good friend of Jim Cameron’s since I was the executive on Aliens. I got promoted because of my relationship with Jim Cameron and the guy’s been a seminal figure in my career. I never for one second thought we were being leveraged. I fully expected Fox to make the play they did, to make sure he didn’t do Cleopatra. I wasn’t surprised when they did.”
Rudin, who acquired the Schiff book, is producer. Deadline has had the scoop on this project all along, from Cameron’s interest, to Jolie anxious to make the movie, to Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chair Amy Pascal deciding to fast-track this PG-13 and 3D Cleopatra after screenwriter Bran Helgeland wrote what is being described as a “brilliant script deserving of epic treatment” about the “greatest female heroine” and “what the Romans took from Egypt”. Sony has been hoping for a start date in 2011 and readily acknowledges that the pic “won’t be cheap”. In fact, Pascal is calling this her Gone With The Wind epic. Indeed, a project of this size and scope is a huge risk for any studio, especially considering how much attention will be focused on the production and the last time Cleopatra was made into a movie with a starting budget of $2 million budget that ballooned to $44 million (the equivalent of over $300 million today) not the least because Taylor became ill and almost died. Still, the production was that year’s highest grossing pic with $26 million.