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Thomas orders ‘Fast Food’

Richard Linklater‘s “Fast Food Nation,” which premieres May 19 in the Cannes competition, represents something of a departure for its British producer, Jeremy Thomas.

In an Oscar-winning career spanning 30 years and more than 40 movies, he has only made two previous pics with American filmmakers.

For a producer of his stature and longevity, that’s an extraordinarily low proportion, which Thomas himself is at a loss to explain.

Perhaps that’s why the media has tended erroneously to give the credit for “Fast Food Nation” instead to the project’s U.S. co-financer, Participant Prods. After all, it fits perfectly into the mold of entertainment with an overt social agenda that Jeff Skoll’s outfit has established with “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “North Country.”

But in fact, Thomas not only developed and drove the project through his production banner Recorded Picture Co., but also put up the majority of the finance through his sales arm HanWay Films.

He brought Participant on board as his U.S. partner just a week before Linklater started shooting. Participant quickly sold the North American rights on to Fox, retaining an equity stake but taking no active role in the production.

The original idea to turn Eric Schlosser‘s expose of the burger biz into a piece of drama came from ex-Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren, with whom Thomas made “The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle.”

Together they persuaded Schlosser to take the fiction route, and he teamed with Linklater on the script.

Thomas describes Linklater as his kind of guy. “He’s modest, lives in Austin, drives himself to work. I like to find filmmakers like that to work with,” he says.

But scan back through RPC’s history, and Linklater, with his eclectic U.S. indie sensibility, stands out like a sore thumb. The list is dominated by foreign arthouse icons, such as Bertolucci, Wenders, Oshima and Roeg, mixed with breakthrough Brit talent.

Thomas himself is surprised when it’s pointed out that he has made only two other movies with U.S. directors, neither as mainstream in their ambition as “Fast Food Nation” — Johnny Depp’s “The Brave” and Bob Rafelson’s “Blood and Wine” (that’s not counting the naturalized Brit Terry Gilliam, who made “Tideland,” and the Canadian David Cronenberg).

Thomas insists that “Fast Food Nation” never felt like a departure. “It felt like something that was of the moment, in the air and covering so many themes,” he says. “It’s just another move in my journey through subjects and ideas.”

Will Willis blow cover in Cannes?

Forget the high-falutin’ debate about the ethics of the burger biz. Here’s a question of more interest to the celeb hounds who swarm around Cannes.

Will Bruce Willis turn up on the red carpet for the world premiere of “Fast Food Nation?”

When Linklater was filming in Colorado Springs last year under a cloak of secrecy, Willis was spotted shooting scenes with Greg Kinnear. But he was never announced to be in the movie, and his name doesn’t appear on any cast lists, prompting speculation that he showed up for a cameo that got left on the cutting room floor.

But Thomas confirms that Willis does actually have a substantial role in the film as a cynical meat supplier. His name will be in the credits, but appears nowhere in the publicity materials or on the poster.

Willis clearly wants to keep his involvement low-key, presumably not to deflect attention from his bigger-budget leading roles. But since he will be in Cannes anyway to promote “Over The Hedge,” will he be able to resist the temptation to don his tux for “Fast Food Nation” as well?

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