Cheadle, Pearce go undercover


Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce have signed to topline "Traitor," an espionage thriller from Overture Films. Cheadle also will produce along with Mandeville's David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman as well as Jeff Silver.

Jeffrey Nachmanoff will direct from his own script, which is based on an original idea from Steve Martin.

The story centers on a CIA operative working undercover with a terrorist group who becomes a terrorist suspect. Cheadle is the undercover agent, while Pearce is an FBI agent investigating terrorist activities.

Hoberman and Lieberman had been developing the project since early 2002, when Martin approached the duo on the set of "Bringing Down the House," which they were producing. Martin told them to meet him in his trailer because the actor had a thriller he wanted to pitch. Hoberman and Lieberman thought Martin was joking and didn't show up. Martin approached them the next day and asked why they didn't meet him.

When the producers finally heard the idea they seized it, setting it up at Walt Disney Pictures, where their company has a first-look deal. When president of production Nina Jacobson was let go and replaced by Oren Aviv, "Traitor" was among the projects dropped in the regime change.

Still, Hoberman and Lieberman never lost sight of the project, seeing it through incarnations until Cheadle came aboard. Nachmanoff, who made a name for himself writing big-budget fare like "The Day After Tomorrow," came in with a take that impressed the producers.

"He did a lot of research; his first bill to us was for 15 books," Lieberman said. "This is in no way jingoistic."

Said Hoberman: "The movie deals with the subject of terrorism evenhandedly. It's not black and white but gray and religious-based."

The film is set to shoot in early September in Toronto and Morocco.

Ashok Amritraj of Hyde Park Entertainment as well as Arlene Gibbs and Kay Liberman of Cheadle's shingle, Crescendo Prods., will executive produce with Martin.

Overture executive vp production and acquisitions Sean Furst will oversee the project for the studio.

"Traitor" is the sixth project Overture has picked up for distribution in as many months. The company — which has a goal of releasing eight to 12 movies a year — recently came aboard to distribute the action thriller "Righteous Kill," starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and greenlighted "Last Chance Harvey," starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, which begins shooting in October in London.

Mandeville is in postproduction on "The Heaven Project," starring Paul Walker, and will begin shooting "South of the Border" on Monday for Disney. On the television side, Mandeville has Spike's "The Kill Point" premiering July 22 and begins airing its sixth season of the Emmy-winning series "Monk" on Friday on USA Network.

Cheadle, who most recently appeared in "Ocean's Thirteen" and "Reign Over Me," was a producer on Oscar winner "Crash" and the upcoming "Talk To Me." He is repped by UTA, Liberman/Zerman Management and attorney Warren Dern.

Pearce, who can be seen in the upcoming ensemble drama "Winged Creatures," is repped by CAA and Shanahan Management in Australia and attorney David Weber.