Rushdie nearly had a date with ‘Lulu’

Security poses a problem for pic

DEAUVILLE, France — Heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio as the unsavory lead in “American Psycho” might have seemed an unlikely casting choice, but it hardly compares for audacity with another bit of casting that didn’t pan out.

Helmer Paul Auster and his producer, Peter Newman, confirmed at Deauville that author Salman Rushdie was slated to play a major part in Auster’s solo directing debut “Lulu on the Bridge.”

Rushdie is under a death sentence issued in 1989 by Iran’s late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini on charges of insulting Islamic sanctities in his novel “The Satanic Verses.”

Had it not been for a few crew members who got cold feet, Rushdie would have played the pivotal role of Dr. Van Horn, a sinister anthropologist who interrogates a captive Harvey Keitel. Willem Dafoe stepped in to fill the role at the 11th hour. (“Lulu,” which opened Un Certain Regard at Cannes, bows Oct. 7 in France, with an American release still pending.)

“I should stress that most of the crew did want Rushdie in the movie,” Newman said, but the ongoing fatwa against the author seemed too daunting a risk to others.”

“Salman Rushdie is a good friend of mine and a gifted performer,” Auster said after the well-received Deauville showing of “Lulu.” “One of his aspirations as a young man was to be an actor. I wanted to cast him because I knew he would be good and because I wanted to live in a world where Salman Rushdie can act in a film and play a fictional character and nobody gets upset by this.”

The casting of Rushdie “was not a problem for the insurance company — which, after all, stood to lose millions if something went wrong,” said producer Newman, now of Redeemable Pictures. “But a few crew members were afraid and the unions made it clear that they wouldn’t allow their members to work unless we could absolutely assure security.”

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