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Focus closes in on deal for McConaughey's 'Dallas Buyers Club'

April 05, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Matthew McConaughey lost weight to play Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club."
Matthew McConaughey lost weight to play Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

EXCLUSIVE: Another horse looks to be joining the 2013-14 Oscar race.

"The Dallas Buyers Club," the long-gestating AIDS drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is close to a distribution deal with Focus Features, according to two people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to talk about them publicly.

The Universal Pictures specialty division is negotiating to pick up domestic and select international rights to the movie and would release it in the U.S. before the end of the year, the people said, positioning it and its actors for award consideration.

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Universal had a first-look option on the independently financed feature after an earlier iteration was in development at the studio. Some deal points still need to be worked out, the people said, but if an agreement is reached, the movie could begin its run at the late-summer festivals and be in theaters within the following few months.

As companies begin to stockpile award contenders for the fall, Focus has a relatively light dossier, with no movie currently dated for the weighty September-December period. It does have a well-reviewed specialty hit currently in theaters, Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines," which has gotten off to a solid box-office start. A Focus spokesperson did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

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Directed by the well-regarded French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee ("The Young Victoria"), "Dallas Buyers" looks at the true story of the late Ron Woodroof, a heterosexual Texas man who in the 1980s contracts HIV and, rather than retreat, begins an elaborate drug-peddling operation that is credited with saving or extending hundreds of lives. After years out of the Hollywood spotlight, AIDS appears to be back in the sightlines of the movie business, with the documentary "How to Survive a Plague" picking up an Oscar nomination this year.

The deal would mark the latest happy turn for a project that had struggled to get made for years, with various editions in the works, including one with Brad Pitt and another with Ryan Gosling. "Dallas Buyers" was filmed this fall in New Orleans and is currently in post-production.

It also marks the latest prestige arrow in the quiver of Matthew McConaughey, who lost a significant amount of weight to play Woodroof. After a year in which the actor released well-regarded films such as "Bernie" and "Magic Mike," McConaughey is currently shooting a detective series for HBO and has the Huck Finn-flavored Cannes title "Mud" hitting theaters later this month.

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