‘Squad’ links to Epps; Travolta brings in bride

THE MGM FILM “THE MOD SQUAD” is no longer missing Linc. The studio has landed Omar Epps to play the Afro-sporting, high-kicking operative played in the original Aaron Spelling series by Clarence Williams III. Epps will join Claire Danes and Giovanni Ribisi in the drama, to be directed by Scott Silver.

Epps, last seen being murdered gloriously in “Scream 2,” will start the film just after completing the Alan Rudolph-directed “Breakfast of Champions” alongside Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte, and has just set his dance card for the rest of the year. He’ll star in the Michael Rhymer-directed Miramax film “In Too Deep,” and he’s also become attached to the MTV/Paramount film “The Wood.

“Mod Squad” is being produced by Alan Riche, Ben Myron and Tony Ludwig, with Spelling and David Ladd exec producers. Epps is repped by Endeavor and Raelle Koota of 3 Arts Entertainment.

DID COUPLING GREASE TRAVOLTA DEAL? When it comes to John Travolta and Paramount, “Grease” is the word after a nearly $13 million opening weekend rerelease. Talk’s building that Travolta is near a deal to co-star with wife Kelly Preston in the Simon West-directed “The General’s Daughter” at the same studio, and cynics are wondering if what had been a tough deal got greased by the husband-wife pairing.

Negotiations have been going on for months, but were nearly administered last rites three weeks ago. Sources said a tired Travolta — he’s done 10 movies in three years –asked to work with the wife he hardly sees, or be given a record $25 million payday. Par balked and began wooing Nicolas Cage and Sharon Stone. Suddenly, the deal was back on and Preston was top choice to co-star with Travolta as investigators unraveling a seemingly upstanding woman’s kinky death.

Travolta’s longtime manager Jonathan Krane acknowledged a deal was in the making, but denied it was contingent on that husband-wife pairing.

The pairing certainly made the deal-making process easier, but Krane — producer of 1986’s “The Experts,” the film on which the couple met and fell in love — strenuously denied Travolta imposed his will on the studio. Neither the studio nor producer Mace Neufeld would comment.

“When all the creative participants got together, and I mean the director included, it became clear we could make a deal that, if it closes, everybody will be extremely happy with,” said Krane. “Nobody will have felt pressured, and everyone will feel this was the right thing for the movie.”

Just as Travolta has worked nonstop since “Pulp Fiction,” Preston, since “Jerry Maguire,” has been busy as well, most recently starring in “Jack Frost.” Cautioned Krane: “The last thing the town should think is that Kelly can’t get a job by herself. She has more than she can handle.

Preston’s also got the offer to co-star with Travolta in “Shipping News,” TriStar’s adaptation of the Annie Proulx novel to which Travolta has been loosely attached for more than a year (Daily Variety, May 15, 1997). If that pairing happens, it will be far down the line, Krane said.

HARDLY DOWN AND OUT: Though Robert Downey Jr. has simultaneously served time as well as a stretch as media whipping boy since being sent to L.A. County jail for a substance abuse relapse, the actor likely will find no shortage of work when he’s sprung later this week. Downey was courted by Tim Robbins for the male lead in Robbins’ next directorial effort “The Cradle Will Rock.” Robbins liked him for Marc Blitzstein, the playwright whose show was banned by the WPA on its opening night.

Robbins visited Downey recently to talk about the role, but Downey can’t do it because the film’s set in Gotham and he can’t leave L.A. until he finishes his probation. “There have been a lot of calls for Robert and great responses to his upcoming films,” said Downey’s ICM rep Nick Styne. “People want to work with him.”

CAST SYSTEM: Tara Reid might well be the next young thesp to catch the “Scream” casting wave. She has just been added to the cast of the Jared Leto-topper “Urban Legend,” the Phoenix horror pic scripted by Silvio Horta and directed by Jamie Blanks.

Reid, just seen in “The Big Lebowski,” has also just landed a role in “Cruel Inventions,” the film which stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon. Reid’s repped by UTA … Patrick Bergin’s become recommitted to “Though the Sky Falls,” the film loosely based on the life of slain Irish journalist Veronica Guerin. Back when Winona Ryder was star, Bergin was asked to play the police detective who befriends the journo and investigates her fatal shooting. Now he’ll co-star with Joan Allen starting June 1 in Ireland. Bergin’s repped by Hyler Management and William Morris …

Victoria Principal is playing it for laughs. She’s performing May 28 in the Second City production of “Mere Mortals.” The perf came after she did a week’s run in “Time Flies” for writer-director Ron West, who plugged her into the Second City stint … Perhaps it’s because Sean Penn is a magnet for good actors, but chatter is building that the cast surrounding him on the Jerzy Kromolowski-directed adaptation of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” could include Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Penn’s a producer on the Phoenix Pictures project.

NEXT TIME, DUCK! Kyra Sedgwick was abruptly scratched last week from Lakeshore’s “200 Cigarettes” because of much more than a scratch. Dish hears Sedgwick dismounted a small airplane she rode in with husband Kevin Bacon. She bumped face first into the plane’s propeller. Thankfully, the plane was at a standstill, but word was she got a black eye and superficial facial cuts. She was replaced by Janeane Garofalo, but will be fine in plenty of time to take the Lincoln Center stage with Helen Hunt and Paul Rudd in the Nick Hytner-directed “Twelfth Night.”

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