Thesp may cut upfront fee, take piece of B.O. pie

Nicolas Cage is in serious discussions with Columbia Pictures to topline “Adaptation.”

Written and directed by the “Being John Malkovich” writer and director team of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, the picture is budgeted at roughly $25 million — a figure tantamount to the actor’s usual fee for big-budget actioners like “The Rock,” “Con Air” and “Face/Off.”

But in this case, Cage would likely defer most of his upfront fee in exchange for a sizable portion of the box office gross of “Adaptation.”

The studio offered Cage an upfront fee somewhere less than $5 million late in the day Tuesday. Negotiations are expected to begin imminently.

Loosely based on New Yorker contributor Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief,” the storyline of “Adaptation” follows a sexually-frustrated screenwriter’s attempts to adapt Orlean’s anecdotal novel for the screen. In between, suffering both love-sickness and writer’s block, the onscreen version of Kaufman enlists his imaginary twin brother, Donald, a fledgling screenwriter, to collaborate on what becomes a box office monster.

The pic is being developed at Col by exec VP of production Amy Baer and by senior VP Carrie Richman.

Meryl Streep is apparently interested in starring as Susan Orlean, but no negotiations have commenced.

Cage, currently lensing MGM’s “Windtalkers” in Hawaii, will next star in the Universal-Miramax co-production “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” under helmer John Madden. He also stars in U’s Christmas release “Family Man,” helmed by Brett Ratner.

Cage’s company Saturn Films, along with Stanley Brooks’ Once Upon a Time Films, recently inched closer to getting their gameshow sendup “Press Your Luck” lensed. Mandalay Entertainment is negotiating to fund the pic and distribute it through its deal at Paramount.

Cage’s rep at Creative Artists Agency, agency topper Richard Lovett, was traveling and unavailable for comment, as were Col studio execs.

(Dana Harris contributed to this report.)

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