Oliver Stone joins “Alexander” race

The race to mount a major motion picture about the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great may have found its frontrunner.

Director Oliver Stone is set to direct the independently financed project Alexander, with Australian hunk Heath Ledger attached to star. Stone, who is currently in Cuba making a documentary about revolutionary Fidel Castro, is planning to start production on Alexander Oct. 16 in India, with an intent to reach theaters by Christmas 2003.

This would put the film way ahead of HBO’s 10-part, $120 million biopic Alexander the Great, a project being mounted by Mel Gibson’s production company Icon Productions, which is set to air in 2004. Also in the running is Initial Entertainment Group’s film, penned by Peter Buchman and Oscar-winning Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects). Martin Scorsese is attached to direct with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the young king. The project is still in the development stages.

Stone has been in development on the Alexander project since the mid-1990s and originally pegged Tom Cruise to star. Instead, he found his Alexander in Ledger, who has been making a name for himself in Hollywood, especially after last year’s surprise hit A Knight’s Tale.

“He’s the perfect age to play Alexander, who became king of Macedonia at age 20 and conquered most of the civilized world before dying at age 33 in 356 B.C.,” Stone told Variety.

Executive producer Moritz Borman of Pacifica Film Development told Variety, “We intend to release the film Christmas 2003. We have no American distributor and don’t need one right now. But word is beginning to circulate, and I’ve got three studio heads on my phone sheet, so we’ll be listening to offers.”