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Naomi to Get into King Kong's Grasp?

09/23/2003 AT 01:00 PM EDT

Naomi Watts may soon find herself in the same tough spot formerly occupied by Fay Wray and Jessica Lange: in the clutches of King Kong.

The Australian actress and Heath Ledger squeeze, 35 (perhaps still best known for her breakthrough role in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive") has emerged as the top contender to star in Universal's remake of the great ape caper for "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Last month in London, Watts reportedly huddled with Jackson (who is being paid $20 million to take the helm of the movie) to assume the role of Ann Darrow, an American singer and dancer who makes her living on Broadway in the remake, which will be set during the Depression.

The original Depression-era "Kong," starring Wray, was made in 1933 and is considered a classic, while Lange starred in the updated 1976 remake, which had its admirers and detractors. It also had Kong meet his end atop New York's then still relatively new World Trade Center. (The original concluded on the then-new Empire State Building.)

Jackson, who is in post-production with the third and final part of the "Rings" trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," is expected to begin writing the "King Kong" script in November, with plans to shoot it next summer.

Meanwhile, another movie is in the remake mode, though hardly on a "Kong" scale -- despite the hairy chest of its leading man, Alec Baldwin.

The Hollywood Reporter says the actor, 45, is poised to dive into a remake of the 1968 film "The Swimmer," based on a novel by John Cheever. Production is set to begin next spring or summer.

In the original, Burt Lancaster (who shocked audiences at the time by baring his buns in the picture) played a middle-aged advertising executive who embarks on a revelatory journey by swimming home through every backyard pool in his upscale suburban Connecticut neighborhood.

The producers tell the trade paper that the remake will stay "relatively faithful to the original," though the setting may shift to Baldwin's native Long Island.

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