Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's Playtone Productions hassnapped up film rights to The Understudy, the second novel from Britishwriter David Nicholls who is best known for his work on hit TV series ColdFeet.

The Understudy is a romantic comedy about a failedactor and Nicholls is to write the screenplay himself.

"I have a very good working relationship with Playtoneand they seemed very passionate about the book," Nicholls commented.Hanks' company also optioned Nicholls' first novel, Starter For Ten.

It has now emerged that Sam Mendes (American Beauty, RoadTo Perdition) is set to produce the screen version of Starter For Ten,which is likely to go before the cameras later this year.

A wry comedy set in the Britain of the mid-1980s, it is astory about an ungainly student who plots to win popular TV quiz show,University Challenge, and in doing so, capture the heart of his beautiful teammate.

Nicholls bills it as a project in similar vein to 60sclassic, Billy Liar. Nicholls has already completed the screenplay. A director is yet to be confirmed. Scamp,Mendes' production outfit, and Playtone are partnering on the project.

Nicholls also recently completed a feature-length,modern-dress adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing for theBBC. His first feature script was Simpatico, an adaptation of the SamShepard play which he co-wrote with Matthew Warchus in 1999.