Paul Rudd, Queen Latifah, and "L.A. Confidential" director Curtis Hanson all pick new projects

This week’s casting news is highlighted by an exciting albeit extremely hypothetical line-up. Clint Eastwood reportedly wants Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery to co-star in his next directorial effort, “Space Cowboys,” about three retired Air Force pilots picked to fly the space shuttle. While no deals have been firmed (Nicholson’s agent said the actor hadn’t even been contacted yet), one can only marvel at the potential budget savings thanks to AARP discounts alone.

Paul Rudd (“The Object of My Affection”) is joining the ranks of “The Cider House Rules,” based on John Irving’s 1985 novel. Rudd will play an Army pilot who befriends an orphan played by Tobey Maguire. Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”) will direct from a script written by Irving himself — a reassuring sign for the novelist’s fans, considering that Irving forced the makers of the upcoming “Simon Birch” (based on his “A Prayer for Owen Meany”) to change the characters’ names because he didn’t want to be responsible for it.

Dennis Rodman has signed on to the action-comedy “Simon Sez,” playing an Interpol agent who teams with two computer whiz monks to rescue a kidnapped girl. There is little pressure for Rodman to avoid a sophomore slump, considering that he began his movie career with a freshman slump in last year’s “Double Team.”

Queen Latifah’s movie career (“Sphere,” “Set It Off”) has been eclipsing her music career, and she will continue her cinematic roll by co-starring with Denzel Washington in “The Bone Collector.” Latifah plays nurse to Washington, who is a quadriplegic detective hunting a serial killer. But her vocal chords aren’t being forgotten: In the Holly Hunter/Danny DeVito love story “Living Out Loud” (opening October 23), the Queen plays a lounge jazz singer.

Another actress who’s had some success singing, Diana Ross will star in an untitled May-December love story with Blair Underwood (“L.A. Law”). Producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds is still hunting for a writer, but he stresses that Ross will sing on the soundtrack.

Finally, director Curtis Hanson may finally have picked his follow-up project to “L.A. Confidential.” He is now negotiating to direct Michael Douglas in “The Wonder Boys,” adapted from Michael Chabon’s novel about a novelist struggling to write a follow-up to his incredibly successful debut book. Do you think Hanson could relate to the pressure of following a masterpiece? Naaaah….