Randy Quaid signed up for a gay cowboy movie, not a universal love story.
That's the gist of a new lawsuit by the familiar-faced actor who alleges in a $10 million lawsuit that he was the victim of a "movie-laundering" scheme by the studio division behind Brokeback Mountain.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles, accuses the filmmakers of getting Quaid to cut his seven-figure asking price by portraying Brokeback as a "low-budget, art-house movie with no prospect of making money." Only later, it says, did Quaid learn Brokeback was a Hollywood-backed production with a budget worth "millions more" than he'd been told.
In the movie, Quaid, 55, plays the rancher who hires future lovers Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) to tend to sheep on Brokeback Mountain.
Focus Features, a division of Universal Pictures, was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as was Brokeback producer James Schamus.
A Focus spokeswoman said Friday that it was the studio's policy "not to comment on pending litigation."
Asked for his opinion on the lawsuit, Beverly Hills-based entertainment lawyer Mark Litwak called it a "longshot" on Quaid's part.
"If you're making a film about gay cowboys, you don't really expect it to be a blockbuster," Litwak said. "This is a low-budget art film that had a surprising success that no one would have predicted."
Brokeback Mountain won three Academy Awards this month, but was the surprise upset loser in the Best Picture category. As of last weekend, it was still in theaters, having taken in some $82 million, just about half of its worldwide gross, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Its budget has been widely pegged at about $14 million; Quaid's lawsuit estimates $15 million. Both numbers are on the low side for studio productions where the average budget is about $60 million.
But Quaid's lawsuit, posted in its entirety on TMZ.com, argues the veteran actor not only didn't know Brokeback was a studio movie, but that he was actively led to believe it wasn't.
Litwak said Quaid may have a tough time proving that contention, saying it's "common knowledge" that Schamus is copresident of Universal-owned Focus. The other individual defendant in the lawsuit, David Linde, was Focus' other copresident before recently being named Universal's cochair
The "movie-laundering" scheme, as outlined in the Quaid lawsuit, has Focus/Universal hiding its involvement by forming a company, Del Mar Productions, that was listed as the producer. Del Mar Productions is also named as a defendant.
Quaid's lawsuit specifically accuses the defendants of intentional and negligent misrepresentation.
The arguable high point of the 15-page suit is a scene involving Quaid and Brokeback director Ang Lee. In it, per the suit, Lee meets with Quaid in March 2004, and tells the actor "we can't pay anything, we have very little money, everyone is making a sacrifice to make this film." Later, the suit maintains, Quaid found out that "everyone" didn't sacrifice, and that "some," identified as "producers and directors," got their usual seven figures.
As for Lee, Quaid, an "instantly recognizable household name and much-admired actor on the world's stage," per the lawsuit, liked the director just fine, but was "not so enamored of Mr. Lee's work that he would sacrifice his normal compensation package"--not without assurances that Brokeback was to be an art-house film.
According to Quaid's lawsuit, art-house films are defined as "often experimental, non-mainstream films that are presented as serious artistic work and are not intended to be box office successes."
"Defendants took advantage of Randy Quaid's devotion to filmmaking as an art form and his support of 'true' art films to obtain his performance in Brokeback Mountain," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit maintains that the likes of Schamus never intended to sell Brokeback as an art-house movie, offbeat subject matter or no. The lawsuit cites quotes in which Schamus talks about the film's broad appeal.
During award-show season, the talking point among the project's contenders, from Lee on down, was that Brokeback wasn't a gay cowboy movie."This is a universal story," Lee said at the Golden Globes, per the BBC. "I just wanted to make a love story."