'Atlas' may no longer be shrugging

The 37-year effort to bring "Atlas Shrugged" to the screen is finally gaining momentum.

Sort of.

Oscar winner Charlize Theron has been meeting during the past several months with Lionsgate and producers Howard and Karen Baldwin, who are developing the project's latest iteration, about starring as main character Dagny Taggart.

Theron has been eager to play the role but has been concerned that a feature would lose many of the nuances of the monster-sized novel. So the Rand adaptation would, under a plan she and producers discussed, be turned into a miniseries for Epix, the pay-cable network Lionsgate is forming with MGM and Viacom/Paramount.

The project, according to this plan, would be to make the mini one of the fledgling network’s programming linchpins. While insiders are not ruling out the possibility of releasing a condensed version to theaters, the main thrust would be the network, where the mini could be used to lure the book’s legion of fans to subscribe.

Theron, who recently signed with WME after years without an agent, has a history of embracing difficult roles. She took the role of a prostitute-turned-killer in “Monster,” which won her an Oscar. She’s also had parts in the sexual-harassment drama “North Country” and the upcoming apocalyptic tale “The Road.”

But her involvement remained uncertain at press time.

While those familiar with the discussions say she has been driving the development process, her reps say that she has recently come to a decision but has not yet informed the studio or producers. WME and longtime manager J.J. Harris told THR late Monday that Theron "is not moving forward with the project."

The uncertainty surrounding Theron's involvement continues a long tradition of murkiness for “Atlas Shrugged,” the project with more go-rounds than Ayn Rand’s book has pages.

Regarded as a difficult book to film, an “Atlas” project nonetheless has been tried by countless producers, dating back to an attempted effort with writer-producer Albert Ruddy in 1972 (he and Rand couldn't see eye-to-eye on creative issues).

Most recently, the Baldwins and Philip Anschutz tried at Crusader Entertainment and the Baldwins, who produced “Ray” and other well-regarded pics, took it with them when they split from Anschutz.

Angelina Jolie had been loosely attached to the material with the Baldwins but has a number of projects that could go first, and producers are keen to shoot “Atlas” next year. That’s in part because of the timeliness of the material but, more important, because an option with the Rand estate expires if principal photography does not begin in 2010.

With Theron's involvement, it could finally get a boost, especially since financiers also have come aboard; a high net-worth individual is said to find the themes resonant is said to be close to investing in the project. If Theron’s involvement falls through, Lionsgate and producers could bring on another lead, with several other well-known actresses expressing interest.

A 1,000-page novel filled with Rand’s ideas about the future of Western civilization, “Atlas” centers on Taggart, a railroad executive trying to keep her corporation competitive in a world she sees as hostile to innovation. Among its most famous passages is a 50-page speech from mysterious character John Galt, regarded as a veiled expression of Rand’s own ideas.

The book, which has sold tens of millions of copies since being published in 1957, has gained new traction in this era of Wall Street bailouts and corporate responsibility. Those opposed to Washington intervention have frequently cited it as a cautionary manifesto.

Producers own several drafts of the script adapting the difficult material, including one by “Braveheart” scribe Randall Wallace, which compressed the longer, more miniseries-friendly version by James Hart. It’s possible that several drafts could be synthesized to create the basis for a mini.

Although the miniseries idea is a new twist for Lionsgate, it has been considered before for “Atlas,” most recently as a development project a decade ago at TNT. Rand, who died in 1982, had favored television over film, thinking the medium would give her ideas more room to breathe.

Epix was created in part as an output pipeline for the films of the three studios but also is developing original programming. This year, it announced it was developing the pilot “Tough Trade,” a country music-set drama from “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan.

Still, there are business obstacles for Epix, which has no carriage deals with cable or satellite operators. Some Wall Street analysts wonder how a network might be launched in a climate of consolidation — and one in which HBO, Starz and Showtime are competing for pay-cable subscribers.

But insiders hope the fact that there’s now another outlet for premium programming — and a climate favorable to prestige longform projects on the small screen — could ensure Hollywood finally is shrugging no more.


By Steven Zeitchik

What do
you all think?
Has anyone read Atlas Shrugged? (It's on my TBR list)

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