'Brothers' co-producer lines up pics

'Monkeys,' 'Mourning' and 'Marine' on Matt Battaglia's slate

As "Brothers" opens in domestic theaters Friday, actor-turned-producer Matt Battaglia is preparing to delve deeper into his new career, unveiling a slate of original and acquired feature projects -- including one with J.J. Abrams.

Battaglia has been an actor for two decades, chalking up appearances on such TV shows as "Baywatch," "Charmed" and "Queer as Folk" before branching into the financing side of producing. That is how he got involved as a co-producer on "Brothers," the Jim Sheridan-helmed war drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire.

Battaglia has dipped into his coffers to pick up rights to develop:

-- "Bad Monkeys," Matt Ruff's novel, which the New York Times Book Review called "a science fiction 'Catcher in the Rye.' " The story centers on a female protagonist who struggles with her alter ego and, after being arrested for murder, claims to belong to a secret society that fights evil.

-- "Or I'll Dress You in Mourning," an internationally known book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre based on the "Rocky"-like story of Manuel Benitez, who rose from poverty to become Spain's most popular bullfighter. Screenwriters Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal ("Tron Legacy") will adapt.

-- "The Marlboro Marine," based on the story of Cpl. Blake Miller and a Los Angeles Times article by Luis Sinco. Miller's Marlboro-smoking face was captured by a photograph that graced the covers of more than 150 newspapers worldwide, was nominated for a Pulitzer and won the Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award. He became a reluctant icon overnight, but he began to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and became disabled upon returning to his Kentucky hometown. Miller's story also made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April 2008. Battaglia sees "Marlboro" as a love story about a soldier returning from war and how he and his childhood sweetheart struggle to connect.

Battaglia said he does not want to try to make films that go the festival route; he's looking for a studio and commercial-centric approach.

"You can't get as much money from the banks as you once could," he said. "Right now, the major financiers seem to be more about directors than talent, so I'm looking for projects that I think will attract major directors and then have the talent follow suit."

That is not to say Battaglia isn't seeking projects that offer great parts. He believes his career as an actor has given him insight about finding awards-worthy roles.

"As an actor, when you're not a Brad Pitt and just a guy in the trenches, most of our job is exposition," he said. "It's rare to get parts for those characters that would afford you the chance to win an Oscar, but you know them when you read them. You can literally see the movie in your head, and you know that this is the kind of property you have to grab."

Battaglia also is involved in an untitled Hunter Scott project, working with Chris Moore and Abrams on the story of a 12-year-old boy working a school project who unearthed crucial information about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The project is in turnaround from Universal, and the producers are exploring new ways to get it off the ground.