Dish

Jet Li has committed to play Kato in “The Green Hornet,” and he’ll be paid a record amount of green by Universal to reprise the role originated by martial arts great Bruce Lee.

Li will land a career-best Hollywood payday of $5.2 million against 5% of the film’s gross. While an actor to play the title character and a director are still being sought, Li’s hiring puts the film on track for a winter start.

“The Green Hornet” has been a U priority for several years, and was once close to the starting gate when George Clooney was signed to a pay-or-play deal, but was then extricated from it by his “ER” boss Steven Spielberg so that Clooney could star in DreamWorks’ first big film “The Peacemaker.” Most recently, Oscar-winning “The Usual Suspects” scribe Christopher McQuarrie has been working on the script, and the studio has targeted several young actors to play the Hornet. Larry Gordon, Chuck Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Mike Richardson and Tom Craig will be involved in producing capacities.

The role of Kato, which propelled Lee to a movie career, appealed to Li, who, after a long career in Hong Kong cinema, emerged as star material in “Romeo Must Die.” His per-pic quote has expanded quickly because he’s already a big overseas draw.

Li expects to start the film after he completes starring in an untitled drama that he has hatched with Luc Besson, who’s writing the script and will finance the film and produce it with Li and Immortal Entertainment’s Steve Chasman and Happy Walters. That pic will mix martial arts with a storyline somewhere between Besson’s “The Professional” and Li’s Hong Kong hit “Fist of Legend.” Besson has yet to sell distribution territories on the pic.

Li will then likely star for “Romeo Must Die” producer Joel Silver in the actioner “The First King,” which is based on an idea by Li.

The only way that plan will be altered is if talks work out for Li to join Silver and Keanu Reeves in the back-to-back “Matrix” sequels, which begin filming next winter. Though no deal has been negotiated, Li has been courted by writer/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, and would then do “The First King” once he finishes those films. Li is repped by Steve Chasman and lawyered by David Feldman and Jake Bloom.

GOOD REPRESENTATION: Neal Marshall Stevens has two scripts about to go into production and a new two-picture deal at Universal worth high-six-against-seven figures. But if it weren’t for his wife, Stevens would not be a millionaire now making plans to move into a landmark Victorian in Brooklyn.

“Last year, I was flat broke, and looking to get food stamps to feed my family,” he said. The Brooklynite had worked sporadically, writing for the Laurel Ententertainment anthology series “Monsters,” teaching and taking odd jobs. This subsidized his writing supernatural and horror scripts, none of which sold.

Desperate, he asked his wife to help by becoming his manager. Using her maiden name, Judith Singer, despite having zero experience, began cold calling from the creative directory. She’d engage assistants and execs in long conversations about their lives, and suddenly, the scripts got read. And began selling.

Fox and Harold Ramis’s Ocean Pictures bought “The Slow Man,” a sci-fi script about a catatonic man discovered to be a Civil War survivor with a slow-age metabolism.

F/X specialist Stan Winston’s exec David Greathouse sparked to “Deader,” a thriller in which a reporter investigates a film depicting a cult ritual in which a woman, shot in the head, comes back to life. “I thought it was horrible, it scared me just to read it, but one Sunday night at 10 p.m., I get a call from Bob Weinstein, telling us he’s on page 60, that the script is great, and can we come in tomorrow to make a deal,” she said.

Singer agreed to sell the script to Dimension, which led to the hard part: negotiating specifics with a business affairs exec. Their former lawyer, who’d promised to be standing by the phone, was nowhere to be found. Though Singer knew nothing about dealmaking, she made the deal. “He was talking about things I didn’t know, I was agreeing to things I had no idea about,” she said. “But it worked out OK, and the very next day, every agent in Hollywood called to meet us.” They signed with Paradigm, and with attorney Jeff Frankel of Colden, McKuin & Frankel.

Stevens was among four writers who hatched prospective “Blair Witch” sequel scripts (his wasn’t used), and for Joel Silver he wrote the remake of the William Castle pic “13 Ghosts,” to be directed by Steve Beck. Stevens just made the deal with U, wherein he’ll adapt the book “Lost Girls” for Jersey Films, and where he’ll script his pitch “Awake” for producer Casey Silver.

His wife still manages her sole client; she’s getting approached to handle other writers, but isn’t sure the terms will be as good as the arrangement she struck for helping create a career for her husband. “Most managers make 10% and I’ve grown accustomed to taking 100%,” she said.

DISHINGS: While everyone from Tom Cruise to Johnny Depp has been toying with the idea of playing Liberace in the Phil Kaufman-scripted biopic, Dish hears that Dustin Hoffman’s also thrown his hat into the ring … Roger Willie, a full-blooded Navajo who escorted his nephew in to read for a role in the John Woo-directed “Windtalkers,” has landed a lead role in the MGM pic. Willie, who’s never acted before, will play the code talker guarded by Christian Slater in the drama.

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