Paul gets new action gig

After six years of hunting heads in the syndicated series “Highlander,” Adrian Paul will next be hunting intergalactic fugitives. Paul has signed a low-seven figure deal with Lions Gate that guarantees him the starring role in a feature, and the starring role in a new syndicated action series that will be shepherded by writer and producer Gil Grant, whose syndie credits include “Relic Hunter” and “The Cape.”

Lions Gate Television exec veep Kevin Beggs brought in syndie vet Grant to hatch an untitled series that has Paul playing an intergalactic bounty hunter sent to earth after a jailbreak he inadvertently prompted sent a swarm of bad guys to the planet. He and the fugitives assume human form. The bounty hunter tries to fit in on a strange planet while hunting his quarry.

Ira Bernstein (who ran Rysher’s domestic distribution when that company did “Highlander”) will distribute through Mercury Entertainment, and Dave Fleming, Paul’s manager at Gold-Miller, will also be a producer. The series will be shopped at NATPE, in hopes of shooting 22 episodes in Canada in May.

“We thought the best way to succeed was to find a star who’s been successful, particularly overseas, which was something borne out by how well Tribune did by putting Kevin Sorbo into ‘Andromeda,’ ” Beggs said. “Adrian already has a core audience we can build on, especially overseas. He’s got the eye candy appeal that will make women stop and tune in, and he’s got the action appeal that men want. And our ability to create a deal that includes films helped, because Adrian didn’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre.”

Paul is best known for logging six seasons as Duncan MacLeod in “Highlander: The Series,” about immortals who used swords to take the heads of rivals. The series was an international hit, leading to a spinoff pic that fared poorly. For Vancouver-based Lions Gate, primarily a film distribution shingle that has recently ramped up TV activity (Daily Variety, Nov. 20), Paul was a strong fit in its desire for a franchise action star who could flourish in both films and a series.

Paul’s in Budapest starring with Bai Ling and Bokeem Woodbine in the Michael Oblowitz-directed scifi pic “A Breed Apart.” He said he signed because he liked the series concept and the edgy niche movies Lions Gate is making, and one of which he’ll star in next year. At the same time, Paul, who directed several “Highlander” episodes, is also gearing up to direct “Hirokin,” a full length scifi film for, using digital technology.

MCDORMAND JOINS DE NIRO AT “SEA”: The Franchise Pictures drama “City By the Sea” has become even more of a prestige project. Adapted from a true story by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journo Mike McAlary, the pic has added its second Oscar-winning thesp to the cast. Frances McDormand has joined Robert De Niro atop the Michael Caton-Jones-directed drama that’s based on the story of a cop — the son of a man executed for a capital crime — who discovers his son might be going the crooked route. McDormand, who recently starred with Billy Bob Thornton for the Coen Brothers’ latest pic, has been starring with Willem Dafoe in “Phaedre” for the Wooster Group, Dafoe’s Gotham-based experimental theater group.

KRIS GOES “APE”: Kris Kristofferson has joined the cast of “Planet of the Apes,” the Tim Burton-directed Fox pic inspired by the Charlton Heston scifi classic. The new pic’s a lot different than the original, and Kristofferson will play a warrior who leads the human revolt against the oppressive ape regime. The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Estella Warren, Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Clarke Duncan, and for Kristofferson, the role marks a continued film renaissance. Kristofferson, who just completed starring with Peter Fonda in the indie “The Wooley Boys,” will move directly from “Apes” to reprising his role alongside Wesley Snipes in “Blade 2.” The momentum of Kristofferson’s comeback is underscored by his return to that latter pic, considering that his character died a most violent death in the first film.

DISHINGS: While the only confirmed participants in “Terminator 3” remain Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong, Dish hears that Famke Janssen has emerged as the frontrunner to play the female terminatrix who’ll menace both of them. While Janssen has evolved into heroine roles, she made a memorable start playing the Bond villainness with the killer thighs in “Goldeneye” … While Rob Lowe will capitalize on his “West Wing” momentum by taking a feature for his hiatus, he’s jumped at the chance to do a high-profile cameo in “A View from the Top,” the Bruno Barreto-directed Miramax comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Candice Bergen and Kelly Preston. Lowe will play a pilot who’s fawned over by a young flight attendant (Paltrow). Though brief, his role features some serious love scenes with her … In the perpetual hunt for the next young leading man, ICM’s bagged a strong candidate in Shane West, the “Liberty Heights” star seen weekly in the ABC drama “Once & Again.” West will be seen shortly in the Tommy O’Haver Miramax pic “Get over It” and Dimension’s Patrick Lussier-directed “Dracula 2000.”

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