NEW YORK — After a weekend meeting with director Wolfgang Petersen, George Clooney has signed to star in “The Perfect Storm,” the Warner Bros. adaptation of the Sebastian Junger nonfiction bestseller about the doomed fishing boat Andrea Gail. His participation is subject to the studio being able to make a deal on the film, which will be produced by Paula Weinstein, Barry Levinson and Gail Katz.

The drama, penned by William B. Wittliff, tells the true story of the ship that got caught in one of the century’s worst storms. Even though the crew perished in waves that reached 100 feet high, Junger wove together a breathtaking tale involving the fishermen, their families and the valiant attempts to rescue the seafarers.

With Clooney aboard to play the ship’s captain, the studio is also in talks for Ben Affleck to play the other big role of a fisherman on the boat.

Like the storm in the story, Clooney materialized very suddenly. Wittliff’s adaptation of a difficult-to-adapt book helped WB land the perfect director in Petersen, whose logistically challenged action hits include “Das Boot,” “Air Force One,” “Outbreak” and “In the Line of Fire.”

Since then, the project has been considered a magnet for macho leading men, with both Nicholas Cage and Mel Gibson attached at one point. But studio determination to keep what’s already a costly pic from going overboard led to a couple of big fish getting off the hook. Enter Clooney, who, after starring in the critically acclaimed “Out of Sight,” exited his role in “ER” to star in the David O. Russell-directed WB pic “Three Kings,” along with Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube in a film that opens in the fall.

Subject to a deal being struck, Clooney will begin work in early summer, just about a week after wrapping his role as a chain gang escapee in the Coen Bros.-directed film “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou.” CAA reps Clooney.

MOLINA’S RANGERING: Alfred Molina will join James Van Der Beek and Dylan McDermott in “Texas Rangers,” the Steve Miner-directed western for Dimension. Molina, who has played villains in films ranging from “Maverick” to the upcoming Universal comedy “Dudley Do Right,” will play King Fisher, the nemesis of the young rangers in the historical drama.

Molina’s just gotten word on a fall slot for “Ladies Man,” the pilot he shot for Columbia/TriStar and CBS. Molina and manager Joan Hyler are producing, with Chris Thompson (“Naked Truth”) creator and exec producer. Molina plays a guy dealing with six women in his life, ranging from mothers-in-laws to wives and ex-wives. “NYPD Blue’s” Sharon Lawrence plays his wife, with Betty White, Dixie Carter and Park Overall some of those other ladies. Molina’s repped by WMA and Hyler Management.

LOTTERY PIC: Sony’s groundbreaking deal to give gross points to screenwriters is beginning to pay dividends. Columbia prexy Amy Pascal has made a preemptive buy of “La Loteria,” a script by husband and wife screenwriters Robin Swicord and Nick Kazan. The duo previously teamed on the critically acclaimed Raold Dahl adaptation “Matilda” and are working on “The BFG” for Paramount.

Swicord and Kazan were among the group of top-tier scribes who helped craft the gross deal with SPE, which made it easy when they finally were moved to set up their long-aborning comedy about an L.A. housekeeper for the family of a Hollywood director, who wins the lottery.

That movement was spurred by reading about a real housekeeper winning the lottery. “Nick and I planned to write this since 1992, about this housekeeper who’s the best kind of person working for the worst people in the world, and there comes a reversal of fortune in both families,” said Swicord. Rather than go the spec route, they brought it to Pascal, for whom Swicord wrote “Little Women” at Col and “Practical Magic” at Turner Pictures. Swicord’s also writing “I Dream of Jeannie” at Col, while Kazan wrote “Fallen” when Pascal ran Turner Pictures. Kazan is repped by Geoffrey Sanford while Swicord’s repped by Merrily Kane.

NO CONFLICT: Most Hollywood dealmakers dread the conflict they endure when leaving a firm to join a rival, but attorney Kevin James is relishing it, particularly since leaving the tutelage of litigator Bert Fields. James recently exited being a partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger to help build an entertainment litigation practice for Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May.

James was a protege of Fields, who’s repping Jeffrey Katzenberg in his legal battle against Disney and Michael Eisner. “Bert was the primary reason I left the U.S. Attorney’s office to join his firm, and there was no better mentor,” James said. “When I left, I wanted to make sure I could eat, so I went to Bert and we talked about the growing conflicts because of the size of the firm and with the (conflict of interest) rules the way they are.

“I wanted to make sure I was one of the lawyers in Bert’s mind when these conflicts arose and he not only said yes, he gave me something just as I was leaving.”

DISHINGS: The pending marriage is off between percenteries Broder Kurland Webb & Uffner and Renaissance. The agencies seemed headed for an altared state (Daily Variety, April 8), but the principals of both companies have amicably called off the union.

“We worked well together on an ad hoc basis and they were very helpful when Chris Carter broadened into novels and we were helpful in selling some of their literary properties into series and TV movies,” said BKW&U agent Chris Silbermann, explaining how the talks began. “But at the end of the day, we decided we’d be better off carrying on business separately.”