hbo_logo_240_001EXCLUSIVE: Nick Nolte — TV star turned film star turned TV star again? Years ago he burst upon the scene in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. Now I’m hearing that Nolte is about to join the cast of Luck, that David Milch-created HBO drama about the horse race world. Milch and Michael Mann are exec producers, and Mann is directing the pilot. The deal isn’t done yet, but I hear Nolte is already “mucking the stalls” at Santa Anita racetrack where the drama will unfold. Dustin Hoffman already signed to star, along with Dennis Farina and John Ortiz. Milch and Mann are exec producers with Carolyn Strauss and Henry Bronchtein.

How has HBO had such luck with Lucky? Landing a feature director like Mann was a big step. Mann has said that Milch’s script is one of the two best ever handed to him–the other was Eric Roth’s script for The Good Shepherd, which Robert De Niro wound up directing. Mann reached out to Hoffman to play lead character Ace Bernstein, a freshly paroled track fixture. They met years ago, when Hoffman was going to direct the prison drama Straight Time and Mann did uncredited script work. Mann hadn’t worked with Nolte before but his longtime casting director Bonnie Timmerman did and Nolte is agreeing to play The Old Man, a formerly famous trainer. Farina, who plays Ace’s right hand guy, has been with Mann since Farina transitioned from law enforcement and made his breakthrough in Crime Story. Ortiz starring in Public Enemies and Miami Vice for Mann, and he’ll play Escalante, a Peruvian trainer of acknowledged accomplishment and sordid repute.