30 Rock

When Paul Walker passed away late last year, he was at a very busy point in his career. His Hours was on the verge of opening, he’d already wrapped Brick Mansions, and he was in the middle of shooting Fast & Furious 7. He also had a few more projects lined up beyond that. One, Agent 47, went to Homeland star Rupert Friend yesterday. Now another, The Best of Me, could be taken over by James Marsden.

Michael Hoffman (most recently of the Coens-scripted Gambit) is directing the romance, based on a novel of the same title by Nicholas Sparks. Michelle Monaghan is set to co-star. Hit the jump for more details on the project.

Deadline reports that Hoffman and Relativity have offered the part to Marsden, though they still need to get through negotiations. The decision comes after a quick but quiet casting process that began shortly after Walker’s passing last month. According to the trade, Marsden was one of the two finalists along with Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike).

The romance follows two former high school sweethearts who cross paths again two decades later when they separately return to their hometown for the funeral of a mutual friend. Neither has forgotten the other, and the passion between them flares up again — but the same factors that kept them apart all those years ago are still in play.

Marsden’s recent roles are notable for their variety. His films in 2013 included Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 2 Guns, As Cool as I Am, and NBC’s 30 Rock. This year, he’ll be seen in the comedy Walk of Shame opposite Elizabeth Banks, the thriller The Loft with Karl Urban, the actioner Endangered with Billy Bob Thornton, and the dramedy Welcome to Me with Kristen Wiig.

The X-Men alum seems like a good pick to replace Walker, especially as he’s no stranger to Sparks’ brand of crowd-pleasing soapiness. A decade ago, he co-starred in The Notebook alongside Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. And this time, he seems far more likely to get the girl.

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