Joe Pesci accuses Gotti producers of yanking role

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Joe Pesci has sued the makers of a movie about crime boss John Gotti and his son, accusing producers of reneging on a contract after he gained 30 pounds to play the notorious crime boss’ right-hand man.

Pesci’s lawsuit could be an early roadblock for the film, “Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father,” that has gained widespread attention due to its subject matter and a cast that includes John Travolta, Al Pacino and Lindsay Lohan.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Pesci said he came to an oral agreement with producer Fiore Films to play Angelo Ruggiero, the close friend of the late crime boss John Gotti, and was promised $3 million for his part.

But Fiore Films later told Pesci that instead he would be playing the lesser role of Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso and would receive only $1 million, according to the lawsuit.

The Italian-American actor’s lawsuit accuses Fiore Films of breach of oral contract, fraud, misappropriation of name and likeness and unjust enrichment.

He is seeking damages of at least $3 million.

“We feel the lawsuit has absolutely no merit whatsoever,” said Steve Honig, a spokesman for Fiore Films.

Pesci said in his lawsuit that he wants to play Ruggiero and is still willing to take the part now that he has begun “diligently preparing for the role.”

“Among other things, (Pesci) has since ended his very strict and healthy diet, and has so far gained approximately 30 pounds in anticipation of playing Ruggiero, who was well known for his heavy and stocky build,” Pesci’s lawsuit states.

Pesci won an Oscar for his role as a mobster in 1990 film “Goodfellas,” and is known for playing gangsters.

“Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father” will tell the story of John Gotti, who became boss of the New York Gambino crime family, and his relationship with his family and son, John Gotti Jr.

The senior Gotti, the so-called “Teflon Don,” for his ability to evade conviction before eventually being found guilty of murder, racketeering, extortion and tax evasion, died of cancer in 2002 while serving a life sentence. John Travolta has signed on to play him.

His son, nicknamed “Junior”, has also evaded conviction at four New York racketeering trials, with the defense that he quit mob life. He remains free.

Pacino is slated to play Neil Dellacroce, the Gambino crime family underboss and Gotti associate.

The film was originally called “Gotti: Three Generations,” but the title has since changed and Barry Levinson has replaced Nick Cassavetes to direct the project.

Production is scheduled to start in New York in January and the film is slated for release in late 2012.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Christine Kearney