You think I'm fat? Pesci to sue after piling on 30lb for film – then losing the part


Los Angeles

Fans of Joe Pesci, who was never renowned for being long and lean, might not have noticed the difference. But for the Goodfellas star, putting on 30lb for a role worth $3m (£1.8m) that was then abruptly withdrawn was sufficiently infuriating to prompt him to file a lawsuit against the film-production company who he says reneged on their deal.

The often-reclusive actor filed the suit in Los Angeles this week. Legal papers made public on Wednesday claim that Pesci sacrificed his dignity and his personal health to gain weight for a movie about the Gambino Mafia family, in which he was to play Angelo Ruggiero, an associate of the late New York mob boss John Gotti Jnr.

"[Pesci] ended his very strict and healthy diet, and has so far gained approximately 30lb in anticipation of playing Ruggiero, who was well known for his heavy and stocky build," it reads.

But shortly after he was cast, Pesci alleges that the movie's producers, Fiore Films, attempted to sideline him from the project. He claims to have been moved to a more minor role than was originally agreed, and told that his fee would be reduced from $3m to $1m.

Pesci now argues that the film company used his name to attract investors to the movie Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father, but had no intention of ever honouring their original deal. They also leveraged him for PR purposes, holding a press conference earlier this year in which he was named in an all-star cast alongside John Travolta and Al Pacino. Fiore Films "secretly planned to use [Pesci's] name and likeness to promote the film and then to later concoct some pretext for terminating the contract so as to avoid paying the plaintiff anything for the substantial publicity and 'buzz' that was generated," the lawsuit alleges.

The film's producer, Mark Fiore, disputes that version of events, saying the actor never signed a contract and walked away from the film when its original director, Nick Cassavetes, withdrew. Pesci has so far refused to co-operate with the replacement director, Oscar-winner Barry Levinson, he added.

"Mr Pesci is going to embarrass himself," Mr Fiore said. "If this is what Joe wants to do, we'll see him in court.... He's not getting a penny from me."

Pesci, 68, achieved fame and his first Oscar nomination in Martin Scorsese's 1980 film Raging Bull. He was then in Scorsese's Goodfellas, for which he won an Oscar, Casino, and several of the Lethal Weapon films. The Gotti project – an ambitious biopic which is due out in 2013 and has the support of John "Junior" Gotti III, Gotti Jnr's son – was to mark Pesci's return to the genre that made him famous. But this dispute leaves him without any upcoming roles.

Big roles – and small

Robert De Niro The Oscar-winning actor bulked up by 60lbs to play Italian middleweight boxer Jake La Motta in the 1980 film Raging Bull. De Niro enlisted La Motta to help him train for the role. He was so convincing, the boxer claimed De Niro could have become a professional fighter.

Marlon Brando The Hollywood heartthrob wasn't asked to gain weight for his role as Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 epic Apocalypse Now, but that didn't stop him. Director Francis Ford Coppola was not best pleased and tried to hide his star's excess bulk on screen by dressing him in black, using close-ups of his face, and using a body double for full-length shots.

Renée Zellweger Zellweger yo-yoed to a size 14 and back down again for her starring role in the two Bridget Jones films, gaining and losing almost 30lbs each time. She is less than enthusiastic about overeating to gain weight for a third film: "For two days it's bliss and then you're full, OK?"

Christian Bale Existing on a diet of coffee, water and either a can of tuna or an apple each day, Bale dropped from 185lbs to a skeletal 121lbs for 2004 thriller The Machinist. Six months after filming, he bulked up to a muscular 190lbs to play Bruce Wayne and Batman in Batman Begins.

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