Keanu set to become one of the Neo rich

“MATRIX” MANEUVERING MEANS MEGABUCKS FOR NEO: The pressing question of whether or not Neo will save the world won’t be answered until “The Matrix Revolutions” opens Nov. 5. The question of just how much Keanu Reeves will make from the two sequels has sparked a guessing game now. While gross deals are more complicated and confusing than even Larry and Andy Wachowski could conceive, estimates are that Reeves will make anywhere from $90 million to near $200 million. Reliable sources say that the latter figure is closest.

The windfall is due to an enterprising deal made by CAA and 3 Arts in 1999 when Reeves agreed to reprise his role in back-to-back sequels. Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures paid $30 million against 15% of the gross for both pics. Because “Matrix Reloaded” made so much when the theatrical split was weighted toward the studio that Reeves has burned through his $30 million advance and is already collecting 15% of the gross. Since the first pic grossed nearly twice as much abroad to get to $350 million, estimates are that the first sequel could reach $700 million worldwide. When box office is added to revenues from the videogame, DVD, TV sale and other ancillaries, Reeves’ earning potential is dizzying. It gets better on “The Matrix Revolutions,” because he earns 15% of everything the moment the film opens. Added to the $30 million Reeves received from the original based on his $10 million against 10% of the gross, the deal provides a new reality for globally viable franchises. It makes all the more perplexing Josh Hartnett’s reluctance to star as “Superman” after being presented with a three-picture deal with nine-figure potential.

BABE IN “THE WOODS”: By his own estimation, M. Night Shyamalan has never written a meatier film role than the female lead in “The Woods,” which he shoots this fall. Why would he give it to Bryce Dallas Howard, who has never starred in a movie before?

Shyamalan initially courted Kirsten Dunst, but scheduling didn’t work and he couldn’t wait until January. He then thought of Howard, who’d been on his mind since “Woods” producer Scott Rudin invited him to watch her in “As You Like It” at the Public Theatre. “The moment Bryce came onstage I thought, ‘My god, this is a total star,” he said. “She could do comedy, humor, romance and I came out of the theater troubled, because she didn’t fit any of the supporting roles. When Kirsten didn’t work out, I thought, can we possibly open a summer blockbuster when the marquee part, the biggest role I’ve ever written for an actor, will be played by a total unknown?” Rudin and Disney sparked to the idea because of Shyamalan’s enthusiasm and, after all, he pulled off “The Sixth Sense” with newcomer Haley Joel Osment in the pivotal role. “Whether it’s Haley or Linda Blair in ‘The Exorcist,’ I think it helps otherworldly films when you introduce someone new, maybe because they feel so real.” Shyamalan doesn’t test actresses, so Howard had no idea why Shyamalan had requested a lunch meeting in New York.

“After a few minutes of small talk, I said, ‘So anyway, I wrote this new movie for an actress under 25 and I’d like you to play the lead,” Shyamalan said. “She just went silent, and said, ‘I thought I was going to temp this summer.’ When you see her in this part, you’ll understand that she will not need to temp.” Shyamalan’s a friend of her father, Ron Howard, and broke the news to him in the car on the way back to Philly.

PRAISER PUNCHES OUT DOCU DEAL: Publicist Dan Klores, who recently helped steer James Gandolfini through the bare-knuckle “Sopranos” renegotiation, will make a documentary about boxer Emile Griffith, who famously beat Benny “The Kid” Paret to death in a title bout broadcast by ABC in 1962. Klores is co-directing and producing “The Winner” with Ron Berger, the ad agency owner. They just teamed on “The Boys of Second Street Park,” a docu that Showtime acquired and will air in the fall. “The story is as much about TV, the media and politics as it is about boxing,” said Klores, who’s got full participation of Griffith. Griffith and Paret split their first two bouts and the rubber match had an extra level of animosity because Paret chose to taunt Griffith about his sexual preference by calling him “maricon.” “That was the considered a vicious insult in their culture,” Klores said. “The fight occurred a year and a half before Jack Ruby killed Oswald, so it was the first time a death had been shown on television. There was an outpouring of outrage, from the Vatican to Howard Cosell, and every self-serving politician used a boxing ban as a way to get publicity.” They hope to have the film ready for next year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

FORD EMBRACES FAME: Harrison Ford gets his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today. Why has the sidewalk salute eluded him so long? Ford rejected past overtures because the name is already on the walk, belonging to a vaudevillian who was among the first to get stars. Given the Tinseltown theme to his new movie “Hollywood Homicide,” Ford relented.

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