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Spielberg drops remake of classic movie 'Harvey'

It always sounded like a stretch for a director who tends to be fascinated by action heroes, terrifying monsters, and touching historical tragedies. Now Steven Spielberg has abandoned plans for his next career-defining film to involve the exploits of a six-foot-tall imaginary rabbit.

The Hollywood mogul revealed yesterday that he had resigned from a remake of the classic James Stewart film Harvey, just weeks before it was due to go into production, after struggling to persuade a sufficiently weighty lead actor to back the project.

According to Variety, first Tom Hanks, pictured with Spielberg, and then Robert Downey Jr considered the starring role – a middle-aged man convinced that his best friend is an invisible bunny – but refused to commit.

Downey even suggested a series of alterations to Spielberg's script, which had been adapted from one that helped garner Stewart a best actor Oscar nomination in 1951, before deciding to pass altogether.

Spielberg's decision is a blow for 20th Century Fox, which was banking on production starting in the New Year and had reserved several vast soundstages. It also means upheaval for Spielberg's newly independent production company, Dreamworks, which was due to take a 50 per cent stake in the project.

Launching Dreamworks has been trickier than Spielberg thought. It took almost a year to raise the $1.2bn he needed for its proposed slate of 30-odd films following the collapse of AIG, which was due to provide a portion of the funds.

The film's demise also means that Spielberg, who recently finished a new Tintin film, has a hole in his schedule. He has yet to confirm which of the many projects he currently has in development will now move into production.