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Role Call: Hollywood’s Weekly Casting News

[IMG:L]Cruise Rides the Valkyrie 
Tom Cruise and Carice van Houten (Black Book) are set to star in Bryan Singer‘s ValkyrieTom Wilkinson and Kenneth Branagh also has joined the World War II-set drama, which is based on the true-life attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In the film, Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of an unsuccessful plot to kill Hitler during World War II. Von Stauffenberg’s briefcase bomb in 1944 only succeeded in wounding Hitler. He was executed by firing squad for the plot. Of course, if you’ve been following the news lately, there’s been a bit of a snafu about filming this in Germany. The country’s Defense Ministry has denied access to some locations because they believe Cruise’s religion, Scientology, is a “money-making cult.” Cruise’s producing partner and United Artists CEO Paula Wagner said in a statement, “Aside from his obvious admiration of the man he is portraying, Mr. Cruise‘s personal beliefs have absolutely no bearing on the movie’s plot, themes or content. And even though we could shoot the movie anywhere in the world, we believe Germany is the only place we can truly do the story justice.” Good point.

[IMG:R]Freeman Tackles Weighty Mandela Biopic 
Morgan Freeman will play former South African President Nelson Mandela in The Human Factor, an independently financed drama, based on the upcoming John Carlin book The Human Factor: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed the World. Freeman, who just reprised his role as God, alongside in Evan Almighty, will also produce the Mandela film with his Revelations Entertainment partner Lori McCreary and Mace Neufeld. The film is set after the fall of apartheid, when South Africa was host to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela was in his first term as South African president, and he used the event as a way to end decades of mistrust and hatred between whites and blacks. “I have known Nelson Mandela personally for quite some time, and am continually in awe of his enormous presence in the world,” Freeman told Variety. “The opportunity to portray him in this film is a great honor.” I’m quite sure that it is an honor—and a way to score another Oscar.

[IMG:L]Black’s Witchy Ways 
Jack Black and director Todd Phillips (Old School) are teaming for the first time on the comedy Man-Witch. Black will play a schoolteacher who suddenly discovers he has witchlike abilities. Taken in by a coven, he is persuaded to attend a school for witches, only to discover that his classmates are all girls. Perfect. This film adds to a growing list of future projects for Black, including the Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) film Margot at the Wedding and the Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) film Be Kind Rewind. He’s also voicing the lead in DreamWorks Animation toon Kung Fu Panda and is set to star in Year One, a comedy Judd Apatow is producing. All work and no play won’t necessarily make this Jack a dull boy.

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[IMG:R]Bullock, Church Learn More About Steve 
Thomas Haden Church is in negotiations to co-star opposite Sandra Bullock in the comedy All About Steve. Bullock plays a brilliant crossword constructor who, after one short date, decides that a CNN cameraman (Church) is her true love. Because the cameraman’s job takes him hither and yon, she crisscrosses the country, turning up at media events as she tries to convince him they are perfect for each other. She fails in this objective but falls in with a band of misfits who appreciate her for who she is. Hmm, Bullock as a stalker, huh? I like it!

[IMG:L]Fishburne To Helm The Alchemist
Actor Laurence Fishburne is looking to get behind the camera to adapt the best-selling novel The Alchemist into a feature film. Based on Paulo Coelho’s philosophical book, the story is about a traveler journeying the world during the Inquisition in order to find man’s purpose in the world. Since its debut in 1988, the book has been translated into 56 languages and has sold more than 40 million copies in more than 150 countries. Fishburne calls it “Harry Potter meets Indiana Jones,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, with a sweeping adventure centering on a young Spaniard who embarks on a quest to find a hidden treasure within the Egyptian pyramids and ends up discovering a personal treasure that eclipses his wildest expectations. Should be fun.

[IMG:R]Those Old Dogs 
Matt Dillon is in final negotiations to co-star in the Walt Disney Pictures comedy Old Dogs. Robin WilliamsJohn Travolta and Kelly Preston already have boarded the film, which will be directed by helmer Walt Becker (Wild Hogs). The story revolves around a divorced father of 6-year-old twins and his womanizing best friend/business partner who have their hands full when they’re forced to care for the kids for two weeks. Dillon will play Barry, the overzealous leader of the summer camp where they take the kids. He is ultraconservative and thinks the two men (Williams, Travolta) are actually gay lovers who have adopted the twins. He keeps a sharp eye on the two at all times. Oh, so its Chuck and Larry Now Pronounce That Daddy Day Care Are Riding Wild Hogs? I can’t wait.

[IMG:L]Adams Is in Doubt 
Amy Adams is in negotiations to star opposite Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley‘s screen adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Adams will play the pivotal role of a young nun in the middle of a tense confrontation in which a Bronx Catholic school principal (Streep) accuses a priest (Hoffman) of pedophilia. Shanley is directing the 1964 period piece as well, which ran in off-Broadway and Broadway productions 2004-06 and earned Cherry Jones (Signs) a Tony as the strict school principal. I predict this to be an Oscar contender for sure.

[IMG:R]Bassett Gets in Bed with Perry 
Angela Bassett will co-star in Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, adapted from Perry’s stage play. In this story about love and family, Bassett will play Brenda, a single mother living in inner-city Chicago who takes her family to Georgia for the funeral of her father, whom she never met. There, she is introduced to the Browns, her father’s fun-loving, crass Southern clan. Brenda also finds romance along the way. Perry will once again portray Madea and Uncle Joe in the film. Halleluiah! A Perry movie without Madea just isn’t the same.

[IMG:L]Polo Puts on Her Detective Hat 
Teri Polo (Meet the Fockers) is set to play a detective in the indie thriller Two: Thirteen. Her character oversees the investigation of a serial killer with a love of Shakespeare. Mark Thompson, best known as co-host of the “Mark and Brian” radio show on KLOS-FM Los Angeles, wrote the screenplay and plays a police profiler who has returned from psychiatric leave and gets drawn into the case. Mark Pellegrino (The Number 23) plays a target of the killer, and singer Dwight Yoakam (Crank) plays a colorful club owner who becomes a source during the investigation. There! You don’t even have to see the movie now.

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[IMG:R]All-Star Cast Joins Ritchie’s New Movie
Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Idris Elba are all set to star in RocknRolla, the newest crime tale from writer/director Guy Ritchie. The story revolves around a Russian mobster, who orchestrates a crooked land deal, putting millions of dollars up for grabs and attracting all of London’s criminal underworld. The film will have a budget under $20 million and be done in the fast-paced, low-budget style of Ritchie’s early films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. It’s about time.

[IMG:L]An Odd Directing Choice
Marc Forster, best known for his acclaimed movies such as racial drama Monster’s Ball and Peter Pan story Finding Neverland, was named as the director of the next James Bond adventure. Forster will direct the untitled 22nd Bond outing from a script he and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis will develop from a draft by previous Bond collaborators Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, the studio and producers told Variety. As previously announced, British actor Daniel Craig, who made his debut as James Bond in Casino Royale, will return as the secret agent with a license to kill in the film slated for release in November 2008. I guess the trend is maintain that less flashy but equally compelling Bond of Casino Royale–and getting a highfalutin director keeps to that idea. “I have always been drawn to different kinds of stories, and I have also always been a Bond fan, so it is very exciting to take on this challenge,” Forster said in a statement. Indeed.

[IMG:R]And Another One…
Then there’s bad boy director Brett Ratner, who is set to direct Playboy, a biopic on Playboy magazine founder Hugh HefnerBrian Grazer is producing, and John Hoffman is writing the screenplay. Grazer optioned Hugh Hefner‘s life rights several years ago but making a film of Hefner‘s long life as icon of the sexual revolution has proven difficult. Ratner and Hoffman found a way to do it that pleased Grazer and the 81-year-old Hefner, who approved the take late last week in a meeting at the Playboy Mansion. Ratner, who completed Rush Hour 3 for an Aug. 10 release, has a rep as a playboy himself and knows much about the magazine’s history, though his mansion visit was his first. “Hef came from a puritanical upbringing and reinvented himself to be the godfather of the sexual revolution,” Ratner told Variety. “He also used his magazine to advocate civil rights and free speech, and put James Brown on his show Playboy After Dark when they didn’t put black performers on national television. He broke all kinds of taboos, especially in sexuality. I want to show it all, from the First Amendment struggles to his first orgy to the stroke in the 1980s that almost killed him.” Right, ‘cause everyone knows you only read Playboy for the articles.

Until next week…

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