Ron-Howard-to-direct-Mena-for-UniversalOver the weekend, Universal made a strong move in closing a m. deal for a spec script, Mena, with Ron Howard attached to direct.

The script was hotly sought-after at auction, with Sony also in the mix, Deadline report, but Universal took the script off the market with its $1m. offer, and a blind script commitment for writer Gary Spinelli (Stash House).

The film is based on the real-life story of Barry Seal, described as a portly pilot who was a 300-pound gun runner and drug trafficker back in the 1980s who transported contraband for the CIA and the Medellín cartel. It was the latter who are reported to have eventually shot him to death in 1986 in Baton Rouge, though conspiracies swirl around the events of his death.

The title of the script refers to Mena, Arkansas, where a lot of the illegal activity took place, under the noses of the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, who was then Governor of Arkansas.

Howard’s producing partner Brian Grazer will produce through their Imagine shingle, with Doug Davison (The Departed) producing alongside him, and Kim Roth (Inside Man) executive producing.

Last year, Howard returned to his prime with the acclaimed and award-winning biopic, Rush, and has reunited with Chris Hemsworth for his upcoming adaptation, Heart of the Sea.

The studio clearly have a lot of faith in the project to put down a $1m. deal that includes a blind script commitment, and it’s understandable with Howard already on board to direct.

One thought that comes to mind is of course who they’ll get to play the lead. There aren’t that many well-known Hollywood stars around the 300-pound mark. So the question becomes, a) do they go for an unknown? b) do they bring the character’s weight down to cast a more bankable star? c) do they ask a better-known actor to gain weight for the role? or d) do they use a suit to do the job for them? I’m thinking either b) or c), but am very interested about how this is going to develop, regardless of which direction they take.

Howard has already finished principal photography on Heart of the Sea, and it sounds like this would be a fantastic follow-up for his next project. The logline alone suggests it has the potential to be an awards contender, à la Zero Dark Thirty / Argo.