Levinson eyes big ‘Piece’ of laffer action

Helmer reuniting with Johnson

NEW YORK — Barry Levinson is negotiating to direct “An Everlasting Piece,” a comedy to be shot in Ireland this fall about two aspiring hairpiece salesmen.

The film will feature an all-Irish cast headed by Barry McEvoy, an actor-bartender who wrote the script.

The “Piece” deal marks a re-teaming between Levinson and former partner Mark Johnson, who produced 11 Levinson-helmed films, including “Diner,” “Rain Man” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” before forming his own company.

Johnson will produce the film with Louis DiGiaimo, who partnered with Johnson and Levinson in “Donnie Brasco,” and Jerome O’Connor, who owns the lower Manhattan restaurant St. Dymphna’s, in which McEvoy tends bar. Levinson’s Baltimore Spring Creek likely will be involved, as will Tiffany Daniels, an exec with Johnson.

The film, set in the ’80s, follows the travails of two slacker pals who plot to get rich by becoming the exclusive salesmen of hairpieces in Northern Ireland. The entrepreneurial duo find themselves in a heap of trouble when they unwittingly dupe, with a faulty toupee, an IRA soldier.

‘Piece’ got hot

Though the film is a modestly budgeted comedy in the style of “The Full Monty” or “Waking Ned Devine,” “Piece” quickly has become a hot piece of material. Patrick Wachsberger’s Summit Entertainment has signed on to sell foreign rights on the under-$10 million pic, and they’re talking to several domestic distributors. Interested parties include DreamWorks, where Johnson has a deal; Warner Bros., where Levinson and partner Paula Weinstein have a deal; and New Line, where Johnson has a second-look deal and Levinson made the low-budget hit “Wag the Dog.”

The pending deals make an unlikely success story out of the Irish-born McEvoy, who has done some stage acting and appears in the Sidney Lumet-directed “Gloria.” He’s probably poured his last pint, as Johnson has signed him to write a second script for DreamWorks, a comedy about a series of murders that take place in the world of crossword puzzle creators.

DiGiaimo helped

McEvoy’s big break came through DiGiaimo, a prominent Gotham-based casting director and producer who heard about the script and called Johnson.

“When we were doing ‘Rain Man,’ Lou did the casting and he gave me this book ‘Donnie Brasco: My Life Undercover,’ which Barry and I turned into a movie with him,” Johnson said. “So when he told me this script was pretty hilarious, I got hold of it right away.”

Johnson got to hear a reading, as he was in town for the CBS pilot “Falcone,” which is based on “Brasco,” and will star Jason Gedrick with Gary Fleder directing the pilot. Johnson flipped for the script and gave it to Levinson, who he thought would appreciate the humor. Soon, the former partners got serious about it.

“It’s just good and fresh, quirky and out of nowhere, and I didn’t think in a thousand years that Barry would be interested in directing it, only to get a good laugh,” said Johnson. “He told me it was very, very funny and I could sense the enthusiasm and said, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ ”

Levinson got hooked after a reading held in Gotham with an Irish cast.

“I thought it was funny on the page and was quite taken with it but wanted to make sure the laughs and humanity were there and that I understood it,” said Levinson. “By the end, I felt very comfortable with it.”

Finishing ‘Liberty’

Levinson is in post-production on another personal and modestly budgeted film, “Liberty Heights.” He might mix in a big studio job, but hopes to put “Piece” in production this year.

“Schedule permitting, I’d like to do it in Ireland this fall with an all-Irish cast,” he said. Levinson has never been to Ireland, but, he noted, “I’d never seen Southeast Asia before ‘Good Morning, Vietnam,’ or Cincinnati before ‘Rain Man’ either, but you go where the work is, and follow the good material.”

McEvoy is repped by UTA, and Levinson is managed by AMG’s Michael Ovitz.

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