'The American President' has low approval ratings with Robert Redford

Just two months after he dropped out of Ridley Scott‘s much-hyped virus movie, Crisis in the Hot Zone, Robert Redford has abandoned the lead role in Rob Reiner‘s romantic comedy The American President. Officially, the actor blamed the script. Redford ”wanted to do a love story, but (Reiner) wanted to do something that was ultimately about politics,” says Lois Smith, Redford’s publicist. But sources say the production’s inability to land a top-draw female lead also led to a riff. Redford had hoped Emma Thompson would play the environmental lobbyist who falls in love with the widowed U.S. President, but Thompson turned down the role, sources say, because the character was too passive. Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer were also cool to the role.

Ultimately, sources say, it was the lack of chemistry between the laid-back Redford and the hyper Reiner that caused the actor to bolt. ”They didn’t get along,” says one industry producer. ”It was a personality thing.” John De Simio, senior vice president of publicity and promotions for Castle Rock Entertainment (which is producing the movie), would say only that the duo had ”creative differences.”

Pending successful casting — Michael Douglas has now been offered the lead, while Jessica Lange is among the female contenders — President is still scheduled to go before the cameras Nov. 30.