EXCLUSIVE: Ridley Scott is finalizing plans to next direct All the Money in the World, the David Scarpa-scripted Black List drama about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his mother Gail Harris to get the boy’s grandfather to pay the ransom. While that grandfather, oilman John Paul Getty Sr, was reputed to be the richest man in the world, he initially refused to pay. The film is being produced and financed by Imperative Entertainment, and Tom Rothman has locked down a worldwide distribution deal for Sony Pictures.

The Harris role has attracted top-flight actresses. Angelina Jolie met on it last week, but won’t do it because of scheduling. Scott is trying right now to lock down Natalie Portman. Coming off an Oscar-nominated turn playing another real-life figure in Jackie, Portman is a strong match for the material. Scott also will lock in a big star to play the cantankerous older Getty. Production is set for Italy in May.

Shutterstock

All this means that Scott will push back The Cartel, the eagerly awaited adaptation of the Don Winslow bestseller about the drug war that had been in active preproduction for Fox. That film will get made right after, with script still being worked on by Shane Salerno, and Scott is hoping to reteam with his Body of Lies star Leonardo DiCaprio. Scott sometimes does this, slipping in intriguing, character-based dramas between his world-creation blockbusters, with The Counselor the most recent example. He is coming off a huge film in Alien: Covenant, which Fox opens on May 19.

Imperative’s Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas will produce with Scott, and Mark Huffam and Kevin Walsh of Scott Free. Quentin Curtis and Chris Clark will also produce. David Beaubaire is overseeing for Sony.

Shutterstock

All the Money in the World tells a harrowing Italian-set drama, a parable about how wealth can be a curse. Paul Getty was the grandson of J. Paul Getty, a magnate who didn’t think much of his own pampered, underachieving son. The grandson seemed likely to follow in those dubious footsteps. Raised in boarding schools, the teen frequented nightclubs, led a bohemian life and attended left-wing demonstrations. One night in 1973, he didn’t return home, and soon a ransom calling for $17 million was sent to the family. The initial suspicion was that the rebellious teen might have staged his own kidnapping, but it soon became clear that this was legitimate, might well have been perpetrated by mob-tied culprits and that the teen was in grave danger: The kidnappers sent a lock of hair, and the teen’s severed right ear, in an envelope.

Harris had a complicated relationship with her ex-father-in-law. When she told the elder Getty she was divorcing his son, she refused his offer for millions of dollars and raised her children on her own. So when she came back to Getty for ransom money, he turned a cold shoulder. Some of his reasons were understandable: He believed that if he paid a ransom for one, he was placing a bounty on all 14 of his grandchildren. But he also was tight-fisted. Eventually, she and the boy’s father reportedly were able to convince him to pay $2.2 million (the highest amount that could be claimed as a tax deduction); Getty lent his son another $700,000 — to be repaid with interest — and the $2.9 million eventually freed the boy.

Getty, who was chained to a stake in a cave in Italy throughout this six-month ordeal, never recovered. He lived a tragic life that included a drug overdose that left him with a stroke and kidney failure, and quadriplegic. He died at 54 in 2011.

This becomes another plum project for Imperative, which put itself on the map by paying $5 million for the David Grann book Killers of the Flower Moon, which is being adapted by Eric Roth. The company bought another coveted book, Tangerine, with Scarlett Johansson and Smokehouse attached, and has since set up the Gavin O’Connor-directed WWII drama Atlantic Wall with Bradley Cooper starring, and most recently set Tracy Morgan and Luke Wilson to star in the Macon Blair-directed The Shitheads.