Fourteen-year-old Jason John Richter will be banking a cool million for Warner Bros.’ “Free Willy” sequel, which goes before the cameras next month.
It’s understood that Richter’s deal also includes an option for a third “Willy” at $ 1.5 million and unspecified future projects at the Burbank studio.
A studio source said the young performer, who is featured in the upcoming TriStar “Cops and Robbersons” and in “The NeverEnding Story III,” is being viewed as having Macaulay Culkin box office appeal. “Willy” was a sleeper summer success, grossing close to $ 80 million domestically and banking an additional $ 53 million in foreign theatrical since December.
Richter had a sequel option in his “Free Willy” contract that, if enforced, would have guaranteed him only about $ 150,000. Warner Bros.’ willingness to renegotiate is seen as a further sign of an ongoing commitment. The escalated deal involved the young actor’s UTA agent, David Decamillo, and his manager, Bryan Zuriff of Dolores Robinson Entertainment. It also involves first-position billing in all related advertising and promotion.
The tentatively titled “Free Willy II” will begin filming on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State in late April. The new script — by Corey Blechman, who co-wrote the original, Karen Janszen and John Madsen — reunites Jesse (Richter) with the whale Willy when the boy goes to visit former aquarium boss Randolph (August Schellenberg) at his island home. The whale breeding ground there is being jeopardized by pollution seeping into the waters from a nearby oil company operation.
The sequel, to be directed by Dwight Little, is described as being more action-oriented than the earlier film. Lauren Shuler-Donner and Jennie Lew Tugend are once again producing.
Negotiations are also under way with Michael Madsen and Jayne Atkinson to reprise their roles of Jesse’s foster parents.