UPDATE, 9:27 AM PT: Fox 2000 has indeed officially closed its deal for the Gayle Tzemach Lemmon book Ashley’s War. The deal was made by UTA, on behalf of lit agent Elyse Cheney. Another opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to craft a film with a heroine that rarely crosses your desk if you sit back and wait for these roles to be dropped in your lap. The role of White would likely be played by a younger actress–she died at 24–but Witherspoon barely flinched when David Fincher didn’t see her for the lead in Gone Girl. They have plenty of time to figure this stuff out.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 4:17 AM PT: Fox 2000 and Pacific Standard’s Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea and Natalie Krinsky ended last night very close to winning a book rights auction to Ashley’s War: The Untold Story Of A Team of Women Soldiers On The Special Ops Battlefield, a Gayle Tzemach Lemmon book that Harper will publish late next month. It’s the story of the creation by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command of a pilot program that allowed elite women soldiers on the battlefield with Green Berets and Army Rangers in Afghanistan in 2010. The unit, CST-2, brought together a hand-picked group of women from the Army, and that included 1st Lieutenant Ashley White, who would become the first CST member killed in action.
In the wake of American Sniper‘s outsized grosses, this becomes the second female-driven war story in two weeks to make a splashy sale: Warner Bros last week bought the memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer Lynsey Addario for Steven Spielberg to direct and Jennifer Lawrence to star, in heavy bidding. Ashley’s War didn’t quite reach that feverish level, but I’m told that Sony and Universal were also in the bidding here. Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler guided this one and UTA brokered the deal. Gabler and her exec Marisa Paiva will oversee the project for the studio.
As I wrote Sunday, Witherspoon and Papandrea — who also chased Addario’s memoir It’s What I Do — were all over this one early. She’ll have first crack at playing White, who died a hero and whose name is on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the Army Rangers she served with. The book tells the story of how White and her platoon mates bonded over adversity.
This continues an intriguing and proactive second career wind for Witherspoon, who, with Papandrea, produced both Wild and the David Fincher-directed adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl, with both films in the Best Picture race. Witherspoon was Oscar nominated for Best Actress for her Wild performance as Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to heal from personal tragedy and the self-destructive path she had been on. Now they’ve got another major book to shape, with an intriguing female protagonist at its center.