Lion hopes Martin’s in the ‘Pink’

Studio expects to be negotiating with thesp shortly

MGM has offered Steve Martin the lead role in “Birth of the Pink Panther,” hoping that Martin will spearhead the rebirth of the comic franchise originated by Peter Sellers. Len Blum wrote the script for Montecito partners Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock. MGM’s Toby Jaffe is shepherding the pic.

Studio sources said they expect discussions to turn to negotiations shortly.

Sources close to Martin aren’t as convinced, because the actor-turned-author is unsure if he wants to tackle such a well-formed and famous character, made famous by Sellers. But a big payday would be in the offing, and if a deal can be worked out Martin would star in the film in 2004.

MGM has been trying for years to rebirth the “Pink Panther” franchise, which placed bumbling crime fighter Inspector Clouseau in high-level crime situations that always resulted in strong pratfall and farcical comedy.

Blum’s prequel script has the inept sleuth assigned to solve the murder of the nation’s soccer team coach while investigating the disappearance of the legendary Pink Panther diamond. That bauble, the national treasure of the Eastern state of Lugash, frequently disappeared in the earlier Panther pics.

The studio once courted Mike Myers for the Clouseau role but balked at paying him $20 million. More recently, the studio did a reading with “Rush Hour” star Chris Tucker.

Martin, who just published his latest novel “The Pleasure of My Company,” would seem a natural to play Clouseau, both because of his impeccable physical comedy skills and because of renewed bankability from the smash comedy “Bringing Down the House.”

Martin followed “Bringing Down the House” by toplining the remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and is starring with Claire Danes in the Anant Tucker-directed “Shopgirl,” an adaptation of Martin’s novella.

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