EXCLUSIVE: Ronald Reagan biopic planned

Producers want to avoid mistakes of controversial 2003 mini

UPDATE: James Brolin responds: I'm a Reagan fan
POLL: Who should play Ronald Reagan?

The story of Ronald Reagan's life -- from boyhood to Hollywood actor to leader of the free world -- is about to spill out on the big screen in a way quite different from the miniseries that caused such a stir seven years ago.

The feature film, titled "Reagan" and sporting a $30 million production budget, is set for release late next year and will be based on two best-selling biographies of the 40th U.S. president by Paul Kengor: "The Crusader" and "God and Ronald Reagan."

Mark Joseph, who optioned the books four years ago, is co-producing with Ralph Winter and Jonas McCord wrote the script.

Winter's producing credits include four "X-Men" movies, two "Fantastic Four" movies and the 2001 remake of "Planet of the Apes." Joseph, a marketing and development executive, worked on "Ray," "Holes," "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "The Passion of the Christ."

McCord, whose credits include "Malice" and "The Body," said he wasn't a fan of Reagan but was drawn to the project as he researched the former president's upbringing.

"I was of the opinion that at best he was a bad actor and at worst a clown," McCord said.

But that sort of less-than-reverential treatment has been done before, as in the 2003 miniseries "The Reagans." That will have little in common with the feature film, which begins with the 1981 assassination attempt and tells Reagan's story through flashbacks and flash-forwards.

McCord describes Reagan's childhood as "a surreal Norman Rockwell painting with his alcoholic Catholic father, devout Christian mother, Catholic brother and ever-changing boarders the family took in."

Said Joseph: "This is a great story. I'm just glad no one else in Hollywood thinks so, or they'd have made this film by now."

The "Reagans" miniseries starred James Brolin as the president and was supposed to air on CBS until a controversy erupted over alleged left-wing bias and it was relegated to sibling premium cable outlet Showtime. It was seen by 1.2 million people.

"Only in Hollywood could you make an insulting, condescending movie about a much-loved historical figure, hire an actor who loathes the man, watch it flop and then somehow conclude that Americans don't want to see a movie about him," Joseph said. "I watched Americans line up and wait for 10 hours for the simple privilege of passing by his closed casket. They love this man." (Click here to read Brolin's response.)

No actors or director have been signed, and the producers are considering two distribution offers. They are in the midst of a final round of funding. (Click here to cast your vote for who should play Reagan.)

The filmmakers have created the production company Rawhide Pictures, an homage to the Secret Service code name for Reagan.
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