It’s not every actor that can steal a scene right out from under Philip Seymour Hoffman’s nose, but in The Master, Joaquin Phoenix did just that. No wonder, then, that director Paul Thomas Anderson is eager to reunite with him on his next movie. Phoenix is now in talks to join Anderson’s Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice, replacing long-attached star Robert Downey Jr. Read more about the casting updates after the jump.

Anderson has been working on the Lebowski-esque noir tale for a few years already, but ultimately chose to direct The Master first. Pynchon’s novel unfolds in ’60s Los Angeles, centering around a pothead P.I. called Doc Sportello. An unexpected visit from his ex draws him into a bizarre case that involves all sorts of colorful characters including “a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, [and] an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman.”

Downey has been linked to the role of Sportello since 2010, and as recently as last week, outlets were reporting that he was still on board. However, Variety is now reporting that Downey has finally moved on, and that Phoenix will take the part instead. Downey’s exit is disappointing news for sure, but as replacements go Phoenix seems like a pretty great one. The casting is especially interesting given that Phoenix doesn’t often do comedies — unless you count The Master, which he does.

As for Charlize Theron, who was said to be circling earlier this month, none of the latest reports seem to mention her. Perhaps the story had much truth to begin with, or maybe she’s just not that close to signing a deal yet.

No start date has been announced for Inherent Vice tale, but in a change from his usual deliberate pace, the pieces seem to be falling into place very quickly. Anderson said last month that he hoped to shoot by the end of 2013, and so far it seems to be on track to do just that.

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