La Salle is ‘Crazy’; Solidarity for ‘Wing’ cast

“ER” STAR ERIQ LA SALLE is set to make his feature directing debut on “Crazy as Hell,” an adaptation of “Satan,” a 20-year old novel by screewriter Jeremy Leven. Leven penned a script which La Salle has rewritten, and La Salle will costar with Michael Beach (“Third Watch”), Ronny Cox, Steven Weber and Tia Texada (“Nurse Betty”). La Salle and Humble Journey partners Butch Robinson and DJ Caruso are financing as well as producing.

Pic is about a psychiatrist who agrees to film a 30-day documentary about the effects of psychiatry on mental illness. Two days after checking in to do the study, a patient claiming to be the devil joins him, and becomes the focus of the film. “There are twists and turns, even a ‘Sixth Sense’ sensibility,” said La Salle.

Because of a short “ER” hiatus, La Salle’s had enough false feature starts to make it look like he was putting off directing. “I had to rely on other sources of financing, but the beauty here is that nobody is more aware of my ‘ER’ schedule than I am. We will shoot this film the first week in June, and I’ll finish in plenty of time to get back to ‘ER.’

How long he’ll be back is unclear. La Salle has one more year in a three-year contract extension he signed that was worth about $27 million, when he and original stars Noah Wyle and Anthony Edwards reupped. Edwards is leaving, but Wyle just signed an extension through season 10.

“My only focus right now is doing the film,” said La Salle. “It’s no secret to anyone at the show that my passion has been film directing. Noah made a choice to continue that was smart for him and I respect that. (But) at this juncture of my career, it’s what I had to do.”

ALL TOGETHER: Now that the Warner Bros. drama “The West Wing” finished its sophomore NBC season with heightened prestige and ratings, its castmembers are quietly mobilizing to ask for pay hikes. While Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe will be negotiating separately, the quartet of Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney and John Spencer are banding together. While separately repped, they’ve collectively retained attorney Peter Nelson of Nelson Felker Levine and Dern to petition WB topper Peter Roth for raises. Dish hears the attorney made first contact this week, and the thesps expect it all to be very civil. Stay tuned.

REALITY-INSPIRED, but fiction none-the-less: “Baby’s in Black” director Brad Silberling is dealing with a problem that goes beyond just shooting the film. “If people are expecting this to be (an expose) of Rebecca Schaeffer’s death, then this film is being set up for an unfair fall,” Silberling said. The director, who is now married to “Judging Amy” star Amy Brenneman, was dating the star of “My Sister Sam” for two years when the 21-year old actress was shot to death by a stalker in 1989, a crime that shocked Hollywood. “Black” centers on a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) grieving his murdered fiancee under the roof of her parents (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon). Things get tricky when he falls in love with another woman. “I was fortunate to have had Rebecca in my life, and I’m very comfortable with there being a public understanding that this is an emotional basis for the film,” he said. “But I want to defuse expectations that this is her family’s story.” The Silberling-Schaeffer angle has been a primary focus of press coverage of the movie, which is troubling to Silberling because the film has many comic moments and sad ones. And unlike his “Baby” protagonist, Silberling didn’t move into Schaeffer’s home in Portland. Schaeffer had long before moved to Hollywood, and Silberling was under contract at Universal. Sarandon and Hoffman’s characters were strongly influenced by Schaeffer’s parents.

“I went up there to be with them at the time of the funeral and two weeks following her death,” he said. “People in the community I didn’t know were grabbing my by the sleeve after the funeral, telling me I was the connection they had to her. It was a daunting emotional responsibility. I could imagine someone feeling they were supposed to stop their life and park themselves there.” Silberling said the Schaeffer connection stops there: “Rebecca’s funeral was the biggest media circus, with National Enquirer reporters literally smashing fifty dollar bills against the window trying to get us to talk to them. We were going through a version of what everybody goes through, the literal loss of a person, and her celebrity made it like a Fellini movie. My hope is that expectations don’t turn this film into a Fellini movie. It should have the chance to be poignant and comedic, to live on its own.”

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