Driver is “Owning”; Stiles Turns Producer

Minnie Driver (“Return to Me“) has signed on to star with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Canadian Alliance Atlantis Motion Pictures’ “Owning Molony,” a film based on the nonfiction book “Stung” by Gary Ross. Richard Kwietniowski (“Love and Death on Long Island“) will direct.

Driver will play the girlfriend of Brian Moloney (Hoffman), a mild-mannered Toronto bank manager who has a serious gambling problem. Miraculously, he is given access to an unsupervised account of $20 million and manages to gamble away $12 million in 18 months.

Execs hope to start production before the impending actors’ and writers’ strikes this summer.

STILING WITH PARAMOUNT, MTV: Julia Stiles, hot off her hit film “Save the Last Dance,” has inked a development and production deal with Paramount Pictures and MTV Films. Under the open-ended deal, she will develop starring vehicles and receive producing credit on projects she brings to the table.

“She’s a great young actress who is very intelligent, has a good development sense and who wants some control over the pictures she stars in,” David Gale, head of MTV Films told Daily Variety. And with the success of her latest film, which has so far grossed $84.6 million domestically, the studio is anxious to work with Stiles again.

Stiles‘ writing talent has been touted before. In 1998, the Sundance Institute’s prestigious Screenwriters Lab selected the then 16-year-old actress to develop a screenplay, “The Anarchist’s Daughter,” which she wrote with two other writers. She’ll be seen next in Universal Pictures’ “The Bourne Identity.”

TOWNSEND HAS ’24 HOURS’ : In Columbia’s thriller, “24 Hours,” Stuart Townsend will join co-star Charlize Theron (“The Legend of Bagger Vance”) in a story about a doctor (Townsend) and his wife (Theron) who are forced to take matters into their own hands when two experienced kidnappers (Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love) abduct their little girl.

The Irish actor Townsend will be seen in the upcoming “About Adam” (March 23) and the much-anticipated adaptation of novelist Anne Rice’s “Queen of the Damned,” which is being released later this year. He will be playing the Vampire Lestat.

‘SUN’ BEAMS ON THORNTON: Writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton will star in the drama “Behind the Sun,” scheduled to start shooting March 24 in Louisiana. The script revolves around an intolerant sheriff in a small town who becomes disillusioned when he discovers a statewide conspiracy after a transsexual is murdered.

Thornton directed last year’s “All the Pretty Horses” and will be starring in two films for Miramax, “Up in Reno” and “Daddy & Them,” the latter of which he wrote and directed.