Chris Farley, the heavyset cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” will get the chance to see if he’s got what it takes to become a movie star, as he becomes the latest in a long line of “SNL” cast members to nab a leading role in a feature.Farley’s accepted a pay-or-play offer to star for Paramount this summer in the tentatively titled “Billy the Third,” a comedy scripted by Bonnie and Terry Turner (“Wayne’s World”), about an irresponsible, slovenly son of wealthy parents. The film will be produced by “SNL” exec producer Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video. Farley, who has done scene-stealing cameos in films like “The Coneheads,” chosethis project over three others. The studio, which is negotiating with “Hill Street Blues” actress-turned-director Betty Thomas to helm “The Brady Bunch,” is still looking for a director for the Farley comedy. He’s the second cast member to be set in a starring stint this summer, with Al Franken playing his 12-step program addict Stuart Smalley in a movie to be directed by Harold Ramis. There might be future employment opportunities for two other cast members, David Spade and Adam Sandler. Dish hears Mike Judge favors making a live action rather than an animated “Beavis and Butt-Head” movie. Those guys were born to play the title characters. Sandler may also make a movie as early as this summer , with Universal high on his script “Billy Madison.” BRIAN’S SWAN SONG: Though Brian De Palma has been a client of UTA honcho Marty Bauer for about 20 years, the director has made an abrupt mid-life decision to make a clean break. Dish hears he’ll land at CAA, likely with Rob Scheidlinger and Ken Stovitz, though the details are still being worked out. Though “Carlito’s Way” did OK business, De Palma hasn’t had a hit since “The Untouchables,” has yet to recover from the “Bonfire of the Vanities” debacle, and wanted to figure out a way to improve his luck, sources said. Ironically, before the split, Bauer placed him in contention to direct one of the hotter properties, “The Truman Show.” It was one of the big spec sales of last fall, when agent Lynn Pleshette sold it to Paramount and Scott Rudin for a preemptive bid worth nearly $ 1 million. Part of the deal was for scribe Andrew Niccol, a British commercials director, to get a shot at directing. Following a director test, the studio has decided to go with a more experienced hand because the budget is high, and it paid Niccol some extra dough to step aside, an insider said. The script is about a man living a mundane existence, who suddenly finds that his life isn’t what he thinks it is. PACKAGE OR NO PACKAGE? Buyers around town have become intrigued with the film package “Old Friends,” with a script by Mark Andrus (“Late For Dinner”), and Mike Newell directing. Kevin Kline, who’s coming off “Dave,” and Ralph Fiennes, who’s coming off “Schindler’s List,” are attached to star. They’d play mismatched neighbors who become friends. The impression is that TriStar finally put the project in turnaround after developing it for years. That’s news to TriStar, as the studio claims the project is still firmly in its arsenal. Now that A-level talent has attached itself, it seems unlikely the studio will let it go. Producer Laura Ziskin, on location of the pic “To Die For,” couldn’t be reached for comment. BETTER SUITED TO DIRECT: While Jonathan Darby quickly rose to senior vice president at TriStar after serving as studio topper Mike Medavoy’s executive assistant, most of his friends know he’s been an auteur trapped in Armani suits. Darby, who directed documentaries at the BBC before joining TriStar, much preferred being behind a camera than a desk and, after moonlighting to direct the Oscar-nominated short “Contact,” he’s getting his wish. Dish hears that Darby has converted his deal at TriStar and goes from creative executive to a first-look writing, directing and producing pact. He’s just gotten his first major directorial assignment: “The Enemy Within,” an HBO film inspired by “Seven Days in May,” about a coup in America 10 years in the future. The script was written by Ron Bass and Darryl Ponicsan and will star Forest Whitaker. Shooting will begin in May. Darby is also currently writing a feature script he hopes to direct for TriStar, whose execs have supported his changeover. Not many have made the transition from exec to auteur, though both Bob Shaye and Joe Roth have dabbled in directing pursuits. But aside from moving his office down a floor in the Thalberg Building, sartorial sources say that Darby’s dress code is relaxing, surely a good sign he’s easing into his new role. AGENT OPUS UPON US? The book Hollywood agents are most curious about, Nikki Finke’s “Pay or Play,” has gotten a new lease on life. Originally scheduled for a fall 1993 publishing date by Joni Evans’ Turtle Bay imprint, the book got delayed when the imprint was folded by Random House, and switched to the RH division Crown. Now, Susan Kamil, who was Finke’s editor at Turtle Bay and revived the Dial Press imprint at Dell, has gotten rights to publish the book and said she expects to release it in early 1995. Kamil thus takes over once again on a book that has gone through a series of editors who have successively tried to shape the enormous tome into a viable literary property — a process that has long delayed publication. The delays, however, might be fortuitous, as Finke has updated the recent radical changes in the percentery biz: William Morris’ film division has rebounded strongly, and longtime agents like Marty Klein and Swifty Lazar have passed away, for example. Finke’s currently flat on her back after falling down the stairs of her duplex in Manhattan and undergoing back surgery to repair the damage. She denied any agents were at the top of the stairs and said she’s mending nicely.
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