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posted February 16, 2000
     Just call him director to the stars. He delivered the solid, inarguable breakthrough both George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez had never quite been able to manage before. His next film is already generating Oscar buzz for Julia Roberts. And now he's on the brink of a team-up with Harrison Ford.
   Is it Ron Howard? Steven Spielberg? Robert Zemeckis? Try Steven Soderbergh.
  Reports from several sources indicate that the director who first made a name for himself with 1989's sex, lies, and videotape, a Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, and the star beloved by millions as Indiana Jones and Han Solo will finally join forces for Traffic. Soderbergh's got indie cred; Ford, who recently signed with an acting agency (UTA) for the first time in his career, wants some.
   The pairing has been rumored for several weeks; now it looks like a deal is finally in place. Ford will play the largest role in what looks to be a sprawling ensemble, that of a tough-minded federal judge recruited to become U.S. drug czar, whose politics are compromised when his teenage daughter morphs into a smack junkie.
   Ford has reportedly agreed to accept a back-end deal in lieu of his eight-figure asking price, which had been a sticking point in negotiations.
Is it a match made in heaven? After a bit of a winding road, it's going to be a match made at 20th Century Fox. Soderbergh has been trying to make Traffic, based on the BBC miniseries Traffik, for over a year. He initially had preproduction deals cooking at Fox 2000, but the studio put the project in turnaround late last fall, expressing concerns about its dark tone.
That freed Soderbergh to seek financing and distribution elsewhere, and Variety says a deal was nearly in place at MGM last month when Fox waffled. The prospect of having a breakout vehicle for the newly independent-minded Ford, who first gave Traffic a sniff shortly after attaching himself to UTA, was too juicy to pass up.
   Frustrated with the pace of the project's coming together, Ford reportedly almost bailed last week. At issue, among other things, was his standard $20 million price tag. According to Entertainment Weekly, Fox wanted the film budgeted at under $30 million. Unwilling to let Rome burn while Fox fiddled, Soderbergh had been financing preproduction out of his own pocket.
With Ford finally aboard, and red-hot Catherine Zeta-Jones also attached to star, shooting has been slated to begin April 2.