EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Antonio Banderas and is in talks with Michael Sheen for the key live action leads opposite Robert Downey Jr in The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle. Banderas plays a pirate named Rassouli and Sheen plays Mudfly alongside Downey’s title character in the Stephen Gaghan-directed film. In addition, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes and Tom Holland will voice three of the talking animals in the script Gaghan rewrote from an earlier draft by Tom Shepherd.

Emma Thompson
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The studio beat out several rivals to acquire the project last year, with the attachment of Downey, and the Oscar-winning Traffic scribe Gaghan directing his script. Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum are producing for their Roth/Kirschenbaum Films alongside Susan Downey for Team Downey. Roth/Kirschenbaum produced Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent and its upcoming sequel. Team Downey produced the Sherlock Holmes films, The Judge and The Brave One.

Ralph Fiennes
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The film is an adaptation of the 1920’s children’s books by Hugh Lofting, and it will launch a new franchise for Downey as he transitions from his signature role as Iron Man. He plays the superhero in the two sequels of The Avengers directed by Joe and Anthony Russo for Marvel and Disney. Gaghan wrote the screenplay for The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle from an early draft by Tom Sheppard.

The film begins production in London in late February and will be released April 12, 2019.  Executive Vice President Jon Mone and Creative Executive Lexi Barta are overseeing it for Universal.

Tom Holland
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Playing the lead nemesis to Dolittle is the latest in a resurgence for Banderas, who stars as Picasso in the new season of the National Geographic series Genius, and who also plays a pivotal role in the Dan Fogelman-directed Life Itself, the film that sold in a $10 million U.S. rights deal to Amazon Studios for release next Oscar season. That FilmNation-financed pic also stars Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, and Annette Bening. Banderas is represented by Paradigm.

Stephen Gaghan Robert Downey Jr
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Sheen is repped by ICM Partners and UK-based Roxane Vacca Mgmt and Sanders Armstrong Caserta; Thompson is repped by CAA and UK-based Hamilton Hodell; Fiennes is CAA and UK-based Dalzell & Beresford; Holland is WME and UK-based Curtis Brown Group and Sloane, Offer.