May 31--BILOXI -- A major casting change for the movie "Artists Die Best in Black," set to begin filming in South Mississippi in less than three weeks, has triggered a lawsuit.
Juliet Landau, the daughter of Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau, lost the female lead role to Hani Furstenberg. Landau is suing to stop production until she can recover what would have been her acting salary, 5 percent of the film's $1.9 million in funding, the use of her image in promoting and raising money for the film, punitive damages and fees for script and talent consultation.
She indicates in the suit, filed May 2, she believed for more than a year she would play the lead and also was asked to be co-producer.
She came to the Coast for a promotional read with actor Eric Roberts a year ago and again in the fall to promote and raise money for the film at the Sun & Sand Film Festival.
Landau is best known for her roles in the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," as well as the film "Ed Wood."
The suit says agents with "Artists" asked her to hold May and June open for the shooting schedule, and her attorney, Emilie Whitehead of the Jackson firm of Steen, Dalehite & Pace, said Landau had begun formal negotiations for her acting salary. As late as March 3, she received an email from the production crew asking for her patience, as production had been delayed.
Then in April, Landau got the brush-off from an assistant producer and the film hired Furstenberg.
Named in the suit are the Coast's Paul Bonge (grandson of nationally known artist Dusti Bonge) as producer, and Price Hall of New Mexico, who is making his directorial debut with "Artists." The suit lists Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett as the registered agent for the film company.
The case has been assigned to Judge John C. Gargiulo. And Landau is asking him to stop production with an injunction until he can hear her complaint, because, the suits says, if the crew is allowed to film, the money in dispute would be quickly spent and there would be nothing to recover.
Shooting is set run about five weeks beginning in mid-June, said Elaine Stevens, local publicist for the film.
Stevens had no comment on the lawsuit on behalf of the film company, but did confirm the new lineup of actors, including Furstenberg.
Eric Roberts is out, Stevens said, because his schedule did not mesh with the shooting dates. In his place, they have signed Malcolm McDowell, known for his role in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." He has acted in 224 films and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
McDowell has a raspy, deep voice and plays authority figures, villains or characters that are "fiendishly intelligent and ruthless," according to IMDb, an online movie and television database.
Stevens said the film also has signed Luke Goss of "Hellboy II," but the IMDb site did not confirm that.
"Artists" is a mystery, adapted to the Coast setting, about a fledgling filmmaker's death, apparently by suicide. His body was found hanging in an art gallery, dressed like a figure in one of his mother's paintings.
Why the switch?
Landau attorney Whitehead said, "I don't know if they decided to invest their money in someone else. I just know that Ms. Landau had invested heavily in the film under the expectation that she would get the role.
"She did not know any of these people prior to being approached. It wasn't that they were friends or colleagues," Whitehead said. "But they approached her. She was offered the part and spent untold hours trying to bring it to fruition -- fundraising and other help -- only to have the rug pulled out from under her."
Laudau's suit doesn't ask for a specific money award, but is leaving that issue to the courts.
"She had a verbal agreement, no written contract. She was offered the part and accepted," Whitehead said. "But we feel like she should be compensated for the time she spent helping to raise funds, and what she would have earned if they had honored the contract."
Landau doesn't know what triggered the switch, Whitehead said. "She received an email out of the blue advising her that they would recast the role.
"She made two trips at the urging of Hall and developed an affinity for the Coast and the people of the Coast," Whitehead said, "She enjoyed her time there and was looking forward to coming back."
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