Lili Fini Zanuck to helm 'Assault'


Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage
After a nearly two-decade hiatus, Oscar-winning producer Lili Fini Zanuck is returning to her directorial roots to helm a big-screen adaptation of John O'Brien's 1996 novel "Assault on Tony's."

Mark Johnson is producing the project, which is about to start casting with the goal of entering production by year's end.

The dark novel by O'Brien, the author of "Leaving Las Vegas," revolves around five white patrons who are barricaded in a bar called Tony's for 17 days while a race riot rages. The drunks continue to drink, but things get intense when the liquor supply begins to dwindle. Power struggles ensue, rationing begins and the alcoholics descend into their own chaos as the violence escalates outside.

Josh Campbell adapted the novel. Erik Bergquist ("The Fast and the Furious") has made updates to reflect the current climate. The riots now have more to do with today's economic crisis, and the 17 days have been reduced to three.

Moreover, the five bar patrons are now three white men and two black, one of whom has never visited the establishment before and does not drink. The waitress role has been expanded.

Zanuck made her directorial debut on the 1991 feature "Rush," starring Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh. She did some TV work, including helming an episode of "From the Earth to the Moon" in 1998 and a few episodes of the 2005 series "Revelations," but a follow-up feature never ensued.

"I was offered some pretty great things after 'Rush,' " Zanuck said. "But people make such a big deal about that second film that you can paralyze yourself. I think that was part of it."

Add to the fact that she already had a successful producing career with her husband, Richard Zanuck, that began with 1985's "Cocoon" and led to the best picture Oscar in 1990 for "Driving Miss Daisy." The duo even produced the Academy Awards telecast in 2000.

So what made her take the plunge with "Tony's"?

"Everybody responds differently in a crisis, and these characters were very compelling to me," she said. "It's dark, it's funny. I mean, you've got four drunk guys in a bar. It's basically the human condition -- how people respond in a non-heroic situation."

Tom Williams also is producing with Johnson through their Gran Via Prods. Campbell is also a producer on the film. Johnson is raising money for the film, whose budget is expected to be less than $10 million.

The novel was published posthumously after O'Brien's 1994 suicide. His sister, author Maureen O'Brien, discovered the first draft after her brother's death and made some contributions. His first novel, "Leaving Las Vegas," was adapted into the 1995 feature that earned Nicolas Cage the Oscar for best actor.