GOOD MORNING: They call it “an offbeat romantic thriller” but after visiting with Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart, director/producer Dick Donner and producer Joel Silver on the set of “Conspiracy Theory” on WB’s Stage 25, I thought the pic would better be described as “an offbeat romantic chiller.” After Gibson described some of the tortures he was subjected to by Stewart’s character, I could only ask why he was doing this movie. “Because it’s a great script, and it’s different,” he admitted. The role hardly seemed like one for a leading man, and more like one for a character actor. But Gibson said, “Leading men are character actors,” and reminded that some of the greats who were on those same WB stages, like Bogart and Cagney, were character actors and leading men. Will the film be able to get a R rating in view of the torture scenes? Donner and Silver were confident, since blood is not shown and Donner’s deft directorial hand will allow audiences’ imagination to fill in what’s not explicit. … Meanwhile, Gibson is wearing a poultice to relieve the pain in the back of his neck and throughout most of the film Stewart’s profile is visibly altered, due to an early encounter with Gibson. And lest you think Roberts escapes the mayhem, I watched as she was knocked about in the scene. But this is only part of the psychological battles going on among the three, ignited by Gibson’s paranoia on conspiracy. It’s even evident in the magnificent sets designed by Oscar winner Paul Sylbert, whose creation of Gibson’s N.Y. apartment showed fireproofed walls protecting his files on Hitler, Stalin, Oswald, even Nixon and Gingrich. Gibson’s character even locks containers of food in his refrigerator and bolts down his toilet seat. Is he nuts? Or isn’t he?
THERE ARE MORE FILMS TO COME from the combo of Gibson, Donner and Silver, after this fifth feature together, and one will certainly be the fourth “Lethal Weapon,” they agreed. Brian Helgeland, who has written the “Conspiracy” screenplay, will write the next “Weapon.” Meanwhile, they are busy on many other projects. Donner and Silver, in addition to the five features, have also completed 93 half-hours of “Tales From the Crypt” and are readying 12 “Perversions of Science” for HBO, of which Donner will direct several. Via their Decade Pictures, they will also produce “Made Men” for HBO; further at HBO is “Double Tap” with Heather Locklear and Steven Rea. They’ve also got two pix for Universal. For WB, Silver’s readying “Matrix,” a big sci-fi’er with the Wachowski freres Larry and Andy; and Frank Darabont (“Shawshank Redemption”) directing “Stitch in Time.” Silver Films is also readying “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which Clint Eastwood will direct. Until now, Eastwood has eschewed acting a role in the pic; Kevin Spacey and Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”) have been mentioned as possible principals. … Gibson’s Icon banner has also completed “187” with Samuel Jackson, “Anna Karenina” with Sophie Marceau, and “Elimination” with Peter O’Toole and Harvey Keitel. … As for Gibson’s next acting role, it’s undecided, but he’s planning to direct “The Palio” in Siena from Saul Turteltaub’s screenplay. And eventually, he’ll star in the remake of “Fahrenheit 451.” By the way, “Conspiracy Theory” is definitely tougher physically than “Ransom,” said Gibson as he lit another cigarette offstage. “I won’t smoke on screen,” he admitted. “Ransom,” directed by Ron Howard, was also filmed in Gotham, but Dick Donner hadn’t seen it — until he unknowingly used a N.Y. location also used for “Ransom.” … And it’s back to N.Y. for Paul Sylbert on John Singleton’s “Shaft” sequel with Richard Roundtree. … Equally busy is co-star Patrick Stewart, who segued from his SRO stand in “A Christmas Carol” at the Doolittle, after winding filming “Safe House,” “Masterminds” and, of course, his masterful performance in “Star Trek: First Contact.” Sure, Stewart would do another “Trek” feature. But first, a few more stints: in England, “Dad Savage,” another offbeat (“heavy”?) role, this one for Polygram. And then off to Australia for Robert Halmi’s “Moby Dick” and then a stage return for the versatile Stewart. Julia Roberts, for whom everyone on the set was heaping high praises to me, says a vacation’s in store (mebbe Ireland) after doing pix back to back.
CHASEN’S WILL BE ALIVE AGAIN on the site of the former Bistro (not the Bistro Garden, where Spago’s going) on Canon. A letter of intent has been made by new owner of the location, Grady Sanders and the Chasen family with Maude’s grandson Scott McKay principally involved. Memorabilia and pictures that lined Chasen’s walls will go up in the updated version, due to open next month. The eatery will also have a private Jockey Club upstairs. Albert Charbonneau, formerly at L’Orangerie, will be manager of the new Chasen’s. … Bill Cosby will be back at work on his series Monday. They’ll first complete the seg they were taping when tragedy struck. … Carol Burnett is a grandmother for the first time thanks to daughter Erin and her husband Trae Carlson, who welcomed son Zachary Quinn Taylor Carlson, Jan. 14 at Cedars-Sinai. Both parents are singers. Burnett should be well versed in playing grandma when she resumes playing the expectant Helen Hunt’s mom in “Mad About You.” … Burnett was celebrating the arrival of her grandson with daughter Jody on her birthday at Madame Wu’s. … Vanessa Marshall makes her debut opposite her mom Joan van Ark in the preem of Elizabeth Hemmerdinger’s thriller, “Star Dust,” bowing Friday at the Tiffany. … The Make-A-Wish Foundation says it has received “overwhelming response” (offers of contributions) following CBS’ “A Child’s Wish,” which aired Tuesday with a cameo by President Clinton.