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BOOKIT

Times Staff Writer

The deal

Actress Jessica Biel options the film rights to Edgar-nominated writer Megan Abbott’s “Die a Little,” a Los Angeles noir novel set in the 1950s with an intriguing character twist.

The players

Biel (recently in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”) and her producing partner, Michelle Purple, sign an option for a film set up at United Artists that also includes screenwriters Geoffrey and Marcia Blake and producer Richard Gladstein. Abbott was represented by Paul Cirone from the Friedrich Literary Agency and Shari Smiley at Creative Artists Agency. The novel, pulp cover and all, was published by Simon & Schuster.

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The back story

Imagine a noir novel set in Los Angeles, 1954, a bleak landscape of drugs, prostitution and murder, where a private investigator is trying to unlock a terrible secret. Nothing you haven’t seen, right? Except the two main characters are women, and the story is told in women’s voices. “Die a Little” is one potboiler in which dames won’t take a back seat. And the movie that’s taking shape, based on the book, will be faithful to the original.

When Biel first read Abbott’s 2005 thriller about a quiet, outwardly normal librarian and a blond femme fatale with an unsettling past, she was smitten. And the pitch she made to bring a major studio on board was direct: Think “L.A. Confidential” with two women. United Artists signed on, in a deal that was put together over several years by CAA’s Smiley, among others.

“I was thrilled that Jessica wanted to do this movie,” said Abbott, a New York-based noir novelist and a scholar who has published a book on the subject. “And it was great to think that she wants to play the darker role of the blond instead of the more wholesome character of the librarian. . . . It could be a major departure for her.”

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So move over, tough guys. Although many women have written L.A. noir, not many female-dominated movies come to mind. “Die a Little” is a genre-bending project, and Biel was passionate about the book. She paid for the option herself -- not always the case when celebrities seek film-worthy material.

The story will be updated to present-day Los Angeles because there had been studio resistance to the original period setting, which could drive costs up considerably. Beyond that, “Die a Little” could look similar to the novel.

“There wasn’t a major role in this movie for a male star, which made it difficult to pitch at first,” said a source close to the negotiations. “But people saw the strength of the original material. It’s going to be a great vehicle for two women.”

josh.getlin@latimes.com

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