NEW YORK — Contradicting Lions Gate Films’ widely hyped announcement in Cannes, Leonardo DiCaprio asserted Wednesday that he has not signed to play serial killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.”
DiCaprio’s team went on the offensive through a publicist to counterbalance the “misinformation” about his involvement with “American Psycho.”
The star’s handlers felt DiCaprio had taken the brunt of blame for bad press in connection with the indie pic and the apparent displacement of slated director Mary Harron and star Christian Bale.
According to the press release issued during the Cannes Film Festival by Lions Gate two weeks ago, DiCaprio had agreed to star in the film based on Bret Easton Ellis’ graphic novel about a yuppie serial killer. Sources close to the company priced the deal for DiCaprio at $21 million.
His manager, Rick Yorn of Industry Entertainment, was also quoted in the release, saying that DiCaprio was “extremely excited about this script” and planned to make the film “his priority.”
But DiCaprio’s camp claimed, contrary to the release, that there have been “no negotiations between DiCaprio’s representatives and Lions Gate Films regarding financial and other terms for appearing in ‘American Psycho.’ ” The statement added that DiCaprio had simply “expressed interest” in the film, “as he has for several other scripts.”
Lions Gate production prexy Mike Pasteornek backed off the company’s original statement Wednesday: “We have always understood this to be a situation where Leo was attached to the movie based on the material. We never made claims that he has a deal with us at this point.”
The dispute reignites the debate over what it means to be attached to a pic and what responsibilities a star has to a project — especially in the wild and woolly world of independent filmmaking.
In this case, it turns out DiCaprio had only been offered the role. Lions Gate may have been premature in its announcement that the star was definitely attached. The news, which included the $21 million offer, set the independent world buzzing, with several veteran indie producers and stars denouncing the move as undercutting the whole indie approach to filmmaking.
Yorn claimed he never actually saw the Lions Gate release, but that it was not factually incorrect in saying that DiCaprio wanted to make the script a priority. “It was never a quote that I would ever make,” he said. “At the same time, it’s not wrong.”
Yorn on Wednesday confirmed that a financial offer was made, but that no deal was consummated. He said that “American Psycho” was just one of several projects that DiCaprio was considering. Two others are Spike Lee’s Son of Sam project and Lasse Hallstrom’s “Cider House Rules.”
“He is excited and he is making it a priority, but a bunch of other things are priorities as well,” Yorn said.
Yorn also wanted to make clear that DiCaprio had no knowledge of the project’s history under Harron.
The pic, which had been co-written and developed by “I Shot Andy Warhol” helmer Harron, was set to start shooting in the fall with a $6 million budget. Bale was in discussions with Lions Gate to topline the pic.
Bale, Harron dumped
When Lions Gate decided in early April to offer the role to DiCaprio, Bale was dropped and Harron, despite her pay-or-play deal, was considered dead weight on the project.
Lions Gate was looking to make the pic into a bigger-budgeted thriller that it could heavily pre-sell overseas with DiCaprio attached.
“He had no knowledge about it other than as a controversial book,” Yorn said. “He had never heard of Lions Gate and had no knowledge of the recent history.”
Lions Gate backed up this claim.
“I don’t think in any way that Leo should be positioned as the bad guy in this,” said Lions Gate’s Pasteornek. “This was a Lions Gate decision to move forward on Leo DiCaprio. Leo did not know he was displacing anybody.”
Pasteornek explained that the company offered the role to DiCaprio by giving him Harron and Guinevere Turner’s script. But the Canadian-based company presented it to DiCaprio without anyone attached.
The exec also wanted to dispel the notion that DiCaprio had director approval. “We put together a list,” Pasteornek said. “I never spoke with Leo about the list. I asked Rick (Yorn) about what he thought about it.”
Some had thought DiCaprio was eager to play the role because it was tonally a reversal of the heroic lover he played in “Titanic.”
No stranger to gritty roles
Yorn noted that DiCaprio has long played grittier roles of tougher, street-smart characters, pointing to “The Basketball Diaries” as an example.
“His taste has always geared toward this kind of thing. This is close to his sensibility.
“He doesn’t make decisions on what people will think,” Yorn added. “If he responds to a character and he sees something there, then he’ll take the next step.”
Ken Sunshine, DiCaprio’s publicist, said: “Mr. DiCaprio will choose his next project based on creative challenge and artistic vision, not some convoluted marketing ploy. This philosophy has always and will continue to guide his career.”
The film, which is being produced by Ed Pressman, Christian Halsey Solomon’s Quadra Entertainment and Chris Hanley’s Muse Prods., is still set to go into production in the fall for Lions Gate. No director, other than Harron, is currently attached, though Lions Gate is said to be interested in either Gus Van Sant or Curtis Hanson to helm the pic.