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Leigh looks to hitch quirk ethic to Roth Caravan

FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS, Mike Leigh has been one of Britain’s most interesting and innovative filmmakers. His oeuvre has included everything from “Bleak Moments” to “High Hopes” and a lot in between. He was named best director last month at Cannes for his latest — the raw, appropriately titled “Naked.”

Given the quirky style of his work, he hardly seems a natural for America’s mass-appeal movie system. But Leigh recently signed with William Morris for U.S. representation. His L.A.-based agent, Morgan Mason, thought the festival might be an appropriate moment with just the right laidback atmosphere to spring him on some visiting Hollywood honchos. The challenge was finding the ones who would be receptive to this iconoclastic talent. There was even a question of who might recognize his name.

So the most likely candidate for a tete-a-tete appeared to be Joe Roth, repping his new Caravan label at Disney.

Roth, it turned out, didn’t just like Leigh’s work, he was nutty for it — he considers Leigh one of the great screen storytellers. And, even better, the two men hit it off when they broke bread.

Officially, Roth is playing his plans for working with Leigh very close to the vest. He admits that he’s heard of the director but is not prepared to say that Caravan will be involved with two upcoming projects. In any case, it could work well for Leigh, since under a proposed Leigh/Caravan deal, the director would have carte blanche to make films at or below a certain budget. That figure is modest by conventional studio standards, lavish compared to what Leigh usually spends.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER is a hero of more than action. He won our unofficial no-frills superstar award.

Why?

Well, he carries almost no human luggage. Hire him and you only have to add two people to the production payroll — a personal assistant and his driver/cook Michael Wacker. Actually, his deal on Wacker is that if the studio can find someone who makes better bratwurst, he’ll be glad to look the other way. So far, there’s been no competition.

And though not quite up to Arnie’s star stature, one industry insider said he wished actors would conduct themselves like Richard Gere — who arrives with “two suitcases and the script memorized.”

ONE SCENE WE WOULD HAVE LOVED to have seen in “Last Action Hero” had Arnold emerging from a tar pit surrounded by dinosaur statuary. That much survives but what was supposedly jettisoned was the following sneering throwaway line: “Dinosaurs are for wimps.”

Granted, this has been disputed and a production source swears a different “Jurassic” gag was prepared. Sam Neill from the rival pic, who’s a friend of director John McTiernan, had agreed to appear in his paleontologist attire in the background of that scene. But a last-minute schedule change nixed it.

Another cameo, involving Alec Baldwin as Anthony Quinn’s nephew, got junked when Mr. B. opted to accept an invite to the Clinton inauguration instead. Bits by Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis also failed to materialize.

But the biggest mystery no-show remains Clint Eastwood. He was on the set and had agreed to appear in a scene in the movie-within-a-movie police station. It simply and curiously was not filmed.

THERE APPEARS TO BE some truth to the rumor that the bedrock of Universal and Amblin’s future lies in the continued popularity of prehistoric creatures.

Following in the tracks of “Jurassic” comes the animated feature “We’re Back” from the two companies at Christmas. Then, for summer 1994, get ready for “The Flintstones,” which will be heavily populated by supposedly extinct beings.

Still, Universal Pictures topper Tom Pollock insists the parallels between “Jurassic” and the modern stone age family go no further than computer-generated technology. “One creates an environment that’s supposed to be real,” he said. “In the other, nothing is real.”

WHEN ASKED IF HE’D EVER CONSIDER acting in a film he directed, Robert Redford eloquently and emphatically replied, “No.”

However, that hasn’t stopped him from putting a lot of people with behind-the-camera experience before the lens of his currently filming “Quiz Show.” In addition to director Barry Levinson suiting up as Dave Garroway, Martin Scorsese is cast as a 1950s TV sponsor. And though better known as thesps , there’s Cannes-awarded director John Turturro and Rob Morrow, who recently preemed the short he made, “Silent Alarm,” at the Seattle Fest.

Redford, the actor, is back as the top contender for Warner Bros.’ “Bridges of Madison County” to follow immediately after his helming stint. Never mind that it’s directed by Sydney Pollack. More relevant is the casting of Mary McDonnell, an actress who proved up to the Redford challenge in “Sneakers.”

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