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''Deep End'' auther gets inspired by her dreams

Jacquelyn Mitchard has a vision for her book’s forthcoming movie

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When asked to imagine her first novel as a movie, Jacquelyn Mitchard has no trouble whatsoever. And why should she? After all, the entire story of The Deep End of the Ocean — a 3-year-old boy’s kidnapping at a high school reunion, the grueling search that follows, and his family-fracturing reappearance after nine years — has already passed before her eyes. ”I dreamed the whole thing,” claims the author, who files a soon-to-be-syndicated, Anna Quindlenesque column, ”The Rest of Us,” for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when she’s not working on a second novel (Learning to Whistle) for Viking.

Hard to believe? Try this: Even before six-figure film rights were secured by Sony’s Mandalay Entertainment over fellow bidders Warner Bros. and Universal, the manuscript happened to attract Via Rosa, the production company of actress Michelle Pfeiffer — the very woman Mitchard claims she always envisioned in the role of aggrieved mother Beth Cappadora. Pfeiffer, whom Mitchard admiringly describes as possessing the requisite ”wan look” and ”almost liquid kind of tenderness” for the main character, is sure to star. ”There’s not a lot of gray area there,” affirms Mandalay production exec Judy Clain.

There’s plenty elsewhere, though, and Mitchard is happy to paint in the numbers. She’d like to see Nicolas Cage as Beth’s long-suffering husband, Pat, ”because he was a really great Italian in Moonstruck, and he too has a haunted look.” For deceptively thick-skinned detective Candy Bliss, she’s partial to Ellen Barkin: ”You can see her being incredibly loyal.” For the high school sweetheart that got away: ”Andy Garcia.” And the tough-love shrink? ”This is going to sound weird, but you have to think it through: Matt Dillon. He’s old enough now. And there’s a real sort of empathy about him.” You don’t say.

Not everyone involved, however, is going off the deep end, as it were, thinking of career moves waiting to happen. ”To me,” says Clain, ”those ideas about casting are all wishes and fantasies.” If past luck is any indication, however, Mitchard should keep right on dreaming. ”I write down everything next to the bed,” she says. ”Especially now.”

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