By EW Staff
Updated April 19, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: David Lee
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LEE WAS WRAPPING ”Girl 6” when actors Michael Imperioli (”The Sopranos”) and Victor Colicchio brought him an early Sam draft. Lee shopped it as exec producer, but when he “couldn’t attach people to it,” he stepped in as cowriter and director for Touchstone. Suddenly actors were lining up to audition as tuff-tawking Italian Americans, driven to vigilantism by the Berkowitz slayings.

“Anybody who had an o or a at the end of their name was up for these roles,” says Esposito (”Spin City”), who had the part of a cheated-on wife until scheduling snafus bumped her to another role and Sorvino put on the ring. Leo DiCaprio even considered playing a Mohawked punk-rocker targeted as a suspect. But the part went to Brody, who’ll get more screen time here than he did in ”The Thin Red Line.” For Berkowitz, Lee had envisioned Badalucco, mild-mannered Jimmy on ABC’s ”The Practice.” Why? ”There’s a resemblance,” Lee says. The actor’s calming way with litigants might come in handy: The family of one of Berkowitz’s victims has already protested.

Meanwhile, Lee is angry over a Los Angeles Times story detailing raunchy passages in a rough cut of ”Sam,” including a grope session at defunct Manhattan swingers’ club Plato’s Retreat. ”That article was a serious breach of trust,” Lee fumes. The MPAA reportedly rejected this early cut for an R rating, which Lee is contractually obligated to secure. All he’ll say is ”We’re still editing and mixing.”

Summer of Sam

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