A-list young actors have thirst for "Wettest County"

Thu Oct 1, 2009 1:42am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Wettest County in the World," a film project about Depression-era bootleggers, is making waves among some of Hollywood's leading young actors, who are drawn to its colorful setting, mystery elements and meaty roles.

"Wettest" is a sweeping, historical crime drama of the American South, based on author Matt Bondurant's grandfather and two great-uncles -- three brothers who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the country's moonshine trade. The book also tracks a parallel story involving the writer Sherwood Anderson, who was on the trail of the bootlegging story, reporting on the moonshine trade and researching his novel "Kit Brandon," published in 1936.

The movie, from Red Wagon and "The Road" director John Hillcoat, was set up at Columbia Pictures about a year and a half ago but has since been dropped by the studio. It's now in the process of being reconfigured as an indie, with financing still coming together.

But the project's ups and downs haven't stopped it from becoming the brass ring for the next generation of Hollywood A-listers.

Shia LaBeouf, Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Gosling are among the actors whose names have been presented to talent representatives and Hollywood executives as being associated with the project, though none is officially on board. Paul Dano and Michael Shannon are two other actors whose names have surfaced in connection with the project.

These actors, none of whom is over age 35, have seven Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and three of the top 10 highest-grossing movies since 2007 to their credit.

The project, observers say, shows that even as studios take fewer risks, worthy projects will be sustained by actors.

Red Wagon is the Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher banner that was behind such pictures as "Jarhead" and "Girl, Interrupted" and two upcoming films -- the "Jekyll" reboot at Universal and the Adam Shankman-produced new take on "Bye Bye Birdie."

(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

<p>U.S. actress Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers at Selfridges department store in Oxford Street where she made a promotional appearance, in central London July 31, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth</p>