Zeta-Jones to play Cleopatra in 3D musical

The 'Chicago' star has been lined up to play Egyptian queen Cleopatra in $30m film by Steven Soderbergh

When Catherine Zeta-Jones starred in her first musical film playing a murderous, high-kicking jazz singer in Chicago, she won an Oscar and received unanimous praise from film critics. Now, six years on, she is in talks to play Cleopatra in a $30m (£19m), 3D Hollywood musical.

The film, Cleo, has been described as a "3D live action rock 'n' roll musical" by Variety. It will be directed by Steven Soderbergh, who is also currently working on a biopic of the pianist Liberace, starring Zeta-Jones' husband, Michael Douglas.

The Welsh-born actress will play the infamous Egyptian queen, while Hugh Jackman, who starred in X-Men, is in negotiations to play her Roman lover, Mark Antony. The punk rock group Guided by Voices are believed to have written the musical score for the film already, while the script is being written by the band's bassist, James Greer.

Zeta-Jones, 39, proved to be a surprise success in Chicago, in which she starred opposite Richard Gere and gave a performance that won praise not only from critics but also from fellow cast members including Gere and Renée Zellweger, who is reported to have been spellbound when she first saw Zeta-Jones perform.

In 2002, Zellweger was quoted as saying: "I had heard that Catherine could sing and dance. People would say: 'You're not going to believe it.' Well, I walk in on my first day and she's in a lift singing "All that Jazz" and I was just dumbfounded. My jaw dropped to the floor. I didn't speak for 30 minutes. Just sat in the corner in awe and watched."

Zeta-Jones, who gained her big break in the West End production of 42nd Street aged 17, gave such an outstanding performance in the film that producers reportedly dropped their original idea of hiring Janet Jackson to record "All That Jazz", and used Zeta-Jones' rendition instead.

She is believed to have requested a 1920s-style bob wig so her face would be seen by fans who could not be left in any doubt that she was performing the challenging dance routines herself. She went on to win an Academy Award for best supporting female.

Cleopatra's story has never before been made into a large-scale musical by a Hollywood film studio. The definitive film of Cleopatra's life remains the 1963 version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which elevated Taylor to superstardom when she accepted $1m to play the title role in the lavish 20th Century Fox production.

This will be the first time that Soderbergh has directed a musical and a 3D film. He has previously helmed a diverse range of films, from mainstream Hollywood fare including Traffic, also starring Zeta-Jones, to Che, a biopic on the life of the revolutionary Che Guevara. He made his name with offbeat indie films, such as Sex, Lies and Videotape Another current project in his six-picture deal with the HDNet movie channel is the tale of a $10,000-a-night call girl, which will feature a 20-year-old porn star, Sasha Grey.

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