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Policies protect Hollywood when stars get into trouble

June 10, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Picture this: You’re the head of a major corporation looking to hire an industry player for big bucks for a risky multimillion-dollar project.

The man you want has one problem _ he’s in drug rehab for crack cocaine and heroin. Oh yeah, a background check shows he’s also on probation for carrying an unlicensed .357-caliber Magnum, and faces jail time if he messes up.

That resume from Robert Downey Jr. would probably wind up at the bottom of the pile. But Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. just take out an insurance policy that pays off in case of unnatural disaster.

``I can understand why Warner Bros. wants to protect themselves,″ said Joe Bilella, Downey’s manager and business partner.

``But probation has been changed so if he ever has a (drug test) problem, it would not be addressed until he has completed principal photography,″ Bilella said.

In other words, the California courts probably would let Downey finish his latest movie, ``U.S. Marshals,″ a sequel to ``The Fugitive,″ even if he violates probation by testing positive for drug use.

Warner Bros. apparently didn’t feel like taking chances, especially when the cost of movie-making is so high that one halted project could mean losses in the millions.

Movie executives say the policies are rare, and they are not cheap. But they can save studios from taking a bath.

Main Line Pictures claims it was nearly ruined by Kim Basinger when she decided to pull out of the movie ``Boxing Helena″ at the last minute.

A jury in 1994 found she cost the company $8.1 million. But the verdict was later overturned, leaving the company to go to trial again at huge expense.

Basinger still gets job offers despite her past, largely because Hollywood knows big-name stars are proven ticket-sellers.

The makers of ``The People vs. Larry Flynt,″ wanted Courtney Love to play the role of Flynt’s girlfriend. But the lead singer for the band ``Hole″ was not exactly known for her ability to work with others. And then there was that heroin problem, and various arrests.

After much difficulty finding someone to write a policy, the filmmaker finally found an agency that would pay off if Love backed out. The cost was $750,000, and Love had to agree to weekly drug tests.

Drug benders and hissy fits are not the only issues that cause executives sleepless nights. A star could fall ill, or drop dead.

The makers of this summer’s comedy ``Out to Sea″ took out a policy on co-star Walter Matthau, who has a history of heart trouble. The insurer required him to pass a series of medical tests before it would issue the policy.

In Downey’s case, his string of drug arrests made him a dicey prospect even though he was popular with audiences and the recipient of good reviews for his recent work, having won an Academy Award nomination for ``Chaplin.″

``U.S. Marshals″ is his first major studio film since waking up dazed and confused in the bed of a little girl whose family live near his house.

He started out small, finishing ``Hugo Pool″ just as his legal troubles hit the newspapers, followed by two other medium-budget films.

``People were bugging the hell out of me to get scripts to him,″ said Barbara Ligeti, the producer of ``Hugo Pool.″

``Some people might have been afraid _ but it was the money guys. The creative people wanted to work with him,″ she said.

A producer who wanted Downey for an earlier film insisted he get up a reported $700,000 to insure himself. Downey refused and was not cast.

The producers of ``The Gingerbread Man,″ a low-budget film directed by Robert Altman (``The Player″), were pressured to pay $1 million to insure the actor. They refused also, but took a chance on Downey anyway.

The movie is set for release in September.

``He was a three-time offender and the insurance company was afraid. But I’ve known Robert for a long time,″ said the film’s producer, Mark Burg. ``I said, `We want to hire you, but we can’t afford the insurance.′ He said, `Mark, you don’t have to worry.′ And his performance was great.″

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