While James Franco and Anne Hathaway have been busy pulling it together to host Sunday’s Oscarcast, Franco’s CAA reps and Disney have closed his deal to play the title role in Oz: The Great and Powerful. That puts the film on track to begin production in July, with Franco reuniting with his Spider-Man director Sam Raimi in the prequel to the L. Frank Baum novel that was scripted by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Joe Roth is producing.
There had been much discussion around town lately about Disney’s gyrations in trying to pare the budget of the film down to a mere $200 million, but they must have figured it out if they locked in Franco. For Franco, the multi-tasking marvel’s dance card for 2011 now looks like this: he’ll first star in the Noah Baumbach-directed While We’re Young, and then will shoot Oz. That brings him to the late fall/winter, when he’ll star in Sweet Bird of Youth, the David Cromer-directed revival of the Tennessee Williams play that will be produced by Scott Rudin. Kidman will play Alexandra Del Lago, the aging voracious movie star, while Franco will play her gigolo paramour Chance Wayne. While Franco has starred in eclectic indies and is even a recurring soap opera star, he has event film experience from the Spider-Man films with Raimi, and stars this fall in Fox’s Planet of the Apes prequel Rise of the Apes. Still, this is a big step up commercially and is the biggest deal of the actor’s career so far and a byproduct of his Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours. In between all that work, Franco will continue matriculating toward his PhD in creative writing at Yale, planning to attend class each day and then commute to NYC for his nightly stage turns.
Oz is a major piece of business for Disney, and joins the parade of revisionist fairy tales and classic kid stories that started with Disney’s billion dollar grossing Alice in Wonderland, and continues with CBS Films’ Beastly with Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens and the Catherine Hardwicke-directed Amanda Seyfried-starrer Red Riding Hood from Warner Bros. Also gearing up for production starts are rival Snow White pictures The Brothers Grimm: Snow White from Relativity Media that has Julia Roberts starring, and Snow White and the Huntsman from Universal Pictures, with Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron starring. Nicholas Hoult was just set for the Bryan Singer-directed Jack the Giant Killer at New Line and Paramount/MGM just set Peter Stormare to join Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner and Famke Janssen in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.