Di Caprio in $21 mil payday

He'll play killer in 'American Psycho'

CANNES — Looking to cash in on his foreign potential, Lions Gate Films will pay teen heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio $21 million to play psychotic yuppie killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.”

Pic is expected to start principal photography this fall in New York with a budget in the $40 million area. Lions Gate, which announced the casting May 15, is hoping the pic will be finished by spring 1999 and possibly entered in the Cannes fest.

Edward Pressman, Chris Hanley and Muse Prods., along with Christian Halsey Solomon, will produce the pic. Lions Gate prexy Jeff Sackman and Lions Gate Intl. prexy Joe Drake along with Ron Rotholz will exec produce.

Project had been a low-budget effort in the $6 million area, with Mary Harron — who adapted the book with Guinevere Turner — attached to direct and Christian Bale close to starring.

Lions Gate’s offer to DiCaprio several weeks ago threw that plan into disarray. Harron stepped down from the project because she had no interest in turning her script into a $40 million-plus budgeted feature. She had chosen Bale to play the Bateman role.

It was unclear whether Harron stepped down from the project or Lions Gate removed her in the interest of finding a director who could handle a bigger budget. Sources said Harron was displeased with the choice of DiCaprio because she had selected Bale for the role.

Harron and Bale worked together on the project for nearly a year. “We worked so hard to get the financing and to get the film set up,” said Bale.

Despite rumor sthat Bale might take another role in the project, the actor adamently said he would “not even consider it.”

Harron had already been contracted to write and direct the piece. Bale had apparently been given a letter of agreement that was not pay or play. Said one source “the deal was basically done in good faith.”

Lions Gate will presumable look for another helmer for the pic on DiCaprio’s approval. Sources said a list has already been submitted to him.

DiCaprio’s manager, Rick Yorn of Industry Entertainment, confirmed his star’s attachment. “Leo is extremely excited about this script and has decided to make it a priority,” Yorn said in a statement.

The pricetag raises DiCaprio to the highest level of star salaries. After the outrageously boffo perf of “Titanic” this year, offers in the $20 million area flooded into Yorn’s office for DiCaprio. But “American Psycho” is the first role that has stirred the star’s interest.

Lions Gate and the producers are quite convinced that “American Psycho” with DiCaprio is a no-lose situation, with foreign buyer interest peaking.

“Leonardo is a phenomenon worldwide like the Beatles were 30 years ago,” producer Solomon says.

“That Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably the biggest star in the world at this moment is far less important to us than the fact that he is also an Academy Award nominee who is brilliant casting for the part,” notes Michael Paseornek, president of Lions Gate. “To have the most romantic man in the movies play someone with no heart or soul will take people’s breath away.”

Lions Gate is pre-selling “American Psycho” in Cannes this week and had hoped to bring DiCaprio to the festival. But sources say the star has been so mobbed by the public since “Titanic” was released that the company and DiCaprio decided against it.

For Lions Gate, the deal establishes the new company as a competitor for big-ticket stars and major projects. The company recently took a financial interest in Peter Guber’s Mandalay Entertainment.

Pic, based on Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel, tells the story of a charming young stockbroker who works on Wall Street by day, but leads a violent and nefarious lifestyle by night. When it was published in the late 1980s, the book came under fire from literary, political and feminist circles for its graphic depiction of violence toward women.

Besides “Titanic,” DiCaprio’s feature credits include “The Basketball Diaries,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Man in the Iron Mask.”

(Benedict Carver contributed to this report.)