Natasha's Asylum Nightmare

Jan. 30 2008, Published 8:04 a.m. ET

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Perhaps Peter Hoffman , who produced Natasha Richardson's new film, Asylum , thought the stately actress would enjoy getting stiffed. (She is, after all, married to the mythically endowed Liam Neeson .) But after convincing the actress to appear opposite Ian McKellen in a period piece set in an English nut house, sources say, Hoffman drove the star nearly mad by failing to deliver on her promised paycheck. In a last-ditch attempt to collect the debt, Richardson filed suit against the producer and his company, Seven Arts Pictures, last year. The producer finally paid up earlier this month, a few days before the movie's premiere.

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While Hoffman dismisses the entire incident as a misunderstanding, Hollywood insiders claim that his foot dragging is no surprise. "He's a creep!" grumbles a highly-placed exec connected to the movie. "This is not the first time he's been less than forthright in paying people who have worked for him." But Hoffman's associates claim that the he simply got himself into a financial bind, and didn't have the heart to tell Richardson that he couldn't cover the film's $11 million budget.

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Though she tried to be patient, says our source, the last straw came when Richardson discovered that colleagues like McKellen had been paid in full. Anxious to collect, she filed suit against the producer. But in a bid to buy himself more time, Hoffman filed a countersuit against the actress, claiming that she was demanding her payout prematurely. After languishing for months in the courts, we're told, the suit was dramatically resolved a few days before the movie's August 12th premiere. "But everyone had to take a financial haircut in the end," says our source. "Hollywood lawyers don't come cheap."

Though the film went on to debut without any more drama, no one involved has ended up too happy. Representatives for Richardson declined to comment on the fracas. For his part, Hoffman admits that he and the actress had a legal tussle, but dismisses the entire incident as "nonsense." "There was an argument about the proper time in which the payment would be made, but it's all been settled," insists the flinty financier. "This is ancient history as far as I'm concerned." Despite all the anguish caused during its production, the film has earned less than $50,000 so far. That's enough to drive anybody crazy.



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