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ABOUT TIME About Schmidt is warming up as an awards-season favorite, but it wasn’t a studio pet when producer Michael Besman optioned Louis Begley’s novel in 1997. Despite having Jack Nicholson attached, the project floundered at Columbia before New Line picked it up. ”It’s that old axiom ‘you’re only as good as your last picture,”’ explains the producer, ”and the last picture Nicholson had done [at the time] was Blood & Wine.” Besman is used to waiting it out: He has spent the last five years developing a biopic of artist/writer Henry Darger and continues to push along the 10-year-old The Difference a Day Makes (Meg Ryan and Drew Barrymore have each been attached as the female lead). He’s crossing his fingers that time is on his side with Schmidt come the Oscars. ”We’re hoping for the big kahuna,” he says. ”Wouldn’t you?”

SMART ASS He plays the less-than-brilliant Stifler in American Pie, but Seann William Scott is no dummy. The actor, who stars opposite Chow Yun-Fat in the upcoming Bulletproof Monk, wasn’t contractually obligated to return for American Pie 3, which films in early 2003. ”My agent said, ‘I know you’re not going to do it, but just read it,”’ recalls Scott; he agreed, only to decide it was the richest Pie yet. He subsequently signed on, with the condition that Universal set him up with a production company. ”I want to start being on the other side of things,” says Scott, who hopes that his older brother, Daniel William Scott, an early contributor to the satirical webzine The Onion, will help him run the company.

JUGGLING ACT Jodie Foster’s circus project, Flora Plum, has found a new leading man in Ewan McGregor; he replaces Russell Crowe, who dropped out last year. Filming will begin this fall.