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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 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."
Jonas McCord, who was not a Reagan fan, wrote the script. "I was of the opinion that at best he was a bad actor and at worst a clown," McCord said.
But the scribe, whose credits include "Malice" and "The Body," said he was drawn to the project as he researched the former president's upbringing. He described 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."
The film will begin with the 1981 assassination attempt and tell Reagan's story through flashbacks and flash-forwards. No actors or director have been signed.
Hollywood's last attempt to depict Reagan was the 2003 miniseries "The Reagans," which starred James Brolin. It 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," said producer Mark Joseph, who optioned the books four years ago.
"I watched Americans line up and wait for 10 hours for the simple privilege of passing by his closed casket. They love this man," added Joseph, a marketing and development executive who worked on "Ray" and "The Passion of the Christ."
He has partnered on the project with Ralph Winter, whose producing credits include four "X-Men" movies, two "Fantastic Four" movies and the 2001 remake of "Planet of the Apes."
The producers are considering two distribution offers as they complete a final round of funding. They have created the production company Rawhide Pictures, an homage to the Secret Service code name for Reagan.