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Robert Downey Jr. as the Wizard of Oz?

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Several weeks ago we wrote that Joe Roth was meeting with newly anointed Disney production president Sean Bailey on a ‘Wizard of Oz’ prequel about the wizard before he came to Oz.

Now we’re hearing that those meetings went well, so well that the project is on a fast track of sorts. According to word in the development community, Robert Downey Jr. is talking to producers about starring as the wizard (hard not to lick your lips at that one).

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Meanwhile, two directors are said to be considered top candidates to get behind the camera: ‘American Beauty’ director Sam Mendes (who may have some time on his hands now that ‘Bond 23' is in trouble) and ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Bedtime Stories’ director Adam Shankman, who most recently pulled the strings from behind the curtain at the Oscars.

(Downey’s and Mendes’ potential involvement, incidentally, were also mentioned earlier today in a tweet from Production Weekly.)

As we’d initially written, ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ writer Mitchell Kapner wrote the script for the project, based on parts of a number of L. Frank Baum books. (It was called ‘Brick’ back when it was first presented to Disney, but is now being talked about around town as ‘The Great Powerful.’) The wizard, who in the Baum books was a charlatan in Kansas before arriving in Oz, is a more dark and complex character in the Roth/Kapner version than the desperate and doddering wizard of the MGM musical (played by Frank Morgan) would suggest, which in turn makes it seem like it would be perfect for Downey (and few others).

The two directors being considered, meanwhile, would seem to mark two directions for the picture, given the more subdued and even bleaker tones that have infused Mendes’ work and the lighter, more whimsical one that has marked Shankman’s.

Disney is said to like the premise enough (and with Roth’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ doing so fantastically well, why not?) that if it all comes together, they could shoot the movie as early as next spring, when Downey has a spot in his production schedule. From down-and-out to playing Tony Stark and, possibly, the Wizard of Oz -- it’s like he’s on his own yellow brick road.

--Steven Zeitchik

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