De Niro thinks shrink

NEW YORK — Robert De Niro has switched mental afflictions.

The actor has dropped plans to produce and play a phobic therapist in the Dean Parisot-directed “Scared Guys.” Instead, he’ll reprise his role as an anxiety-ridden mobster treated by a reluctant shrink in the Peter Steinfeld-penned “Analyze That,” the sequel to the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures hit “Analyze This.” Pic is expected to begin production in February, and De Niro will be getting his career-best payday, near $20 million, sources said. Sources said De Niro received $17.5 mil for WB’s upcoming “Showtime,” co-starring Eddie Murphy.

De Niro, whose salary has soared since he broadened his dramatic resume and made the hit comedies “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents,” had been expected to play against his tough-guy type as a man afraid of everything in “Scared.” De Niro and his Tribeca partner Jane Rosenthal joined John Baldecchi in producing the Columbia comedy, with De Niro to have played a phobic therapist who pries himself from the apartment for the first time in years. While there was talk of pairing him with such actors as Adam Sandler and James Gandolfini in the role of an equally phobic sibling, De Niro dropped the project abruptly, partly because he wasn’t crazy about a rewrite, and also because Col wasn’t crazy about his desire to push back the comedy while he first did “Analyze That.” Columbia is looking for a new A-lister to topline “Scared Guys.”

De Niro has closed a deal with an eye toward reteaming with “Analyze This” director Harold Ramis and co-stars Lisa Kudrow and Billy Crystal, who played the reluctant shrink in the original co-production between Tribeca and Baltimore/Spring Creek. The dealmaking for Ramis and Crystal is ongoing. De Niro is repped by CAA.

ROCK ROLLS WITH “DREAMCATCHER”: After slowing to a crawl, studio starts might finally be coming back in vogue. Castle Rock has given a green light to and begun casting “The Dreamcatcher,” its latest adaptation of a Stephen King work. The studio got the rights from King, retaining “Misery” and “Hearts in Atlantis” scribe William Goldman. Lawrence Kasdan then came aboard and has spent the past year working on a rewrite; he plans to produce and direct. The film, about four kids who bond while performing a heroic act and then reteam to tackle a much larger adversary, will start production in January. The tale is a match of “Stand by Me” with “Alien,” and it was one of King’s biggest bestsellers. CR has done King-sized biz with the author’s adaptations “Stand by Me,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Misery” and “The Green Mile.”

RADFORD FINDS DIRECTION: Pandora will turn Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s “South of the Border, West of the Sun” into a feature that will be developed as a directing vehicle for Michael Radford, the helmer Oscar-nominated for “Il Postino.” Radford, who was just brought on to direct the Leonard Goldberg-produced “Crime of Honor” for Phoenix Pictures, plans to then move on to Murakami’s tale of a seemingly happily married father who finds a midlife crisis is rearing its head when the first woman he loved comes back into his life. ICM brokered the book deal with Paul Federbush, Pandora vice president of production and acquisitions, and Radford’s managers at Industry Entertainment and agent Brad Gross now are negotiating the director’s deal. Pandora, now a division of Gaylord Films, finances its own films through foreign pre-sales and distribs its films domestically through Warner Bros. Company had a prolific year, completing production on “Welcome to Collinwood” and “A Walk to Remember” at WB and “Company Man” at Miramax.

JACKO IN “BLACK”: Will Smith isn’t the only cast member of “Men in Black 2” with platinum-selling records on his shelf. Michael Jackson has quietly joined the cast of Sony’s sci-fi sequel, playing a small role — apparently, not an alien. “We shot a small scene with Michael on Tuesday,” said helmer Barry Sonnenfeld. “He was charming, funny and really cool to work with.” Jackson hopes to reclaim his title with Sony’s Oct. 30 release of his “Invincible.” Dish hears Jackson would like his comeback to include movie roles, even though multiple efforts to turn him into a movie star at the peak of his popularity never got off the drawing board. But Jackson’s a Sony music franchise, so it seems likely he’ll be squeezed into more Sony film fare.

SIGNINGS: UTA has brought Stephen Dorff into the agency fold. Dorff, who made a splash as the villainous vampire in “Blade” and plays the title role in “Cecil B. DeMented,” next will be seen starring in the MGM pic “Deuces Wild,” and will follow by starring in the Miramax drama “The Heist,” directed by Gerard Pare. He also recently wrapped the thriller “FearDotCom” opposite Stephen Rea … ICM continues to bolster its youth quotient, signing Hannah Taylor Gordon, the 14-year-old Emmy-nominated star of ABC’s “Anne Frank.” She’s managed by London-based Vanessa Pereira … Writers & Artists has signed Mark Brown, who’s emerging as a major voice in urban-themed fare. Brown wrote and directed “Two Can Play that Game” and wrote “How to be a Player” and “Barber Shop,” the latter to star Ice Cube. Larry Kennar of Anonymous Content manages him.

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