The attempt to film Robert James Waller's best-seller The Bridges of Madison County is turning into a bigger page-turner than the novel itself. First director Sydney Pollack backed out of the project. Then Steven Spielberg, who had agreed to direct the film last December, announced he was taking a year off after Schindler's List. Now it turns out Spielberg isn't exactly out of the picture-his production company, Amblin Entertainment, has decided to produce the film with ex-Amblin president Kathleen Kennedy. And Spielberg's Bridges will most likely star Clint Eastwood (replacing Robert Redford, who dropped out when Pollack did) as the National Geographic photographer who has a blissful four-day affair with an Iowa housewife.
Although there has been talk of Eastwood also directing the film, the top contender is now Mike Newell, whose Four Weddings and a Funeral is the sleeper of the spring movie season. The decision may hinge on Newell's opinion of the script. Kennedy, who persuaded Warner Bros. to acquire the rights to the Waller novel before it became a runaway best-seller in 1992, admits that stretching the slim volume into a two-hour movie has been tricky. ''It's a delicate piece of material,'' she says, insisting the latest script, by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King), is the best yet. Kurt Luedtke (Out of Africa) and Ronald Bass (Rain Man) also worked on versions of the story.
If Newell agrees to direct, all they need is the female costar, but a source close to Eastwood warns that finding her may prove the biggest hurdle yet. ''Bridges of Madison County is fraught with peril,'' he says. ''It's essentially a woman's film. A lot of actresses are pushing for it.'' A poll of 800 readers of the Chicago Sun-Times indicated that audiences would like to see Barbara Hershey play the part. But many of the hottest actresses in Hollywood have been mentioned for the role, including Anjelica Huston, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson, Geena Davis, Mary McDonnell, Isabella Rossellini, and-most recently-Cher. ''Cher really wants it,'' says a source at Malpaso Productions, Eastwood's production company. ''(At first we thought), oh, man, the tattoos. But this woman can act. They don't give away Academy Awards with a SAG card.'' Kennedy, meanwhile, refuses to show her hand. ''It's all speculation,'' she says. ''There's been no official casting on this movie, ever.''