Thanks to an A-list cast -- not to mention Lindsay Lohan -- an indie biopic about the mafioso has become one of Hollywood's most talked-about projects

By Chris Nashawaty
May 20, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

New York’s Dapper Don, John Gotti, was a bigger-than-life character. And now a movie being made about the late Mafia kingpin, Gotti: Three Generations, is proving to be just as headline-grabbing. The first salvo in the buzzy biopic’s shock-and-awe campaign was a Barnum-esque press conference held on April 12 in Manhattan, where producer Marc Fiore trotted out his newly inked star John Travolta and director Nick Cassavetes. Seated next to them was John Gotti Jr., who was asked who’d be playing him in the film. The mobster’s son joked, ”Eddie Murphy!”

At least we think he was joking. After all, every week seems to bring another boldfaced name to the $70 million indie: Joe Pesci, Kelly Preston, Lindsay Lohan, and Al Pacino have all recently signed on. Surprisingly — or not surprisingly, when you think about it — the Lohan announcement (she’s slated to play Gotti Jr.’s wife, Kim) has been getting the most press. ”Lindsay’s a terrific actress, she’s gorgeous, and I’m rooting for her in a big way,” says Fiore. ”For some reason the media keeps trying to kill this kid, but she’s a top-notch actress.” Actually, Fiore’s so bullish on the troubled Lohan, he hired her for his next film, Mob Street, written by Chazz Palminteri.

Fiore’s been busy writing checks for Gotti’s offscreen talent, too. After Cassavetes dropped out of the project last month due to a scheduling conflict, Fiore snapped up Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson and his Bugsy writer, James Toback. ”Those two got 10 Academy Award nominations for Bugsy,” says the producer. ”I’m hoping to get their next 10.” Meanwhile, two of Gotti’s juiciest parts haven’t even been cast yet: No. 1 son John Gotti Jr. and platinum-haired reality-star daughter Victoria. ”They’ll definitely be names you’ve heard of,” promises Fiore.

Gotti doesn’t start shooting until January 2012, and still doesn’t have a distributor lined up. But the big question is whether all of the splashy talent attached will raise expectations too high. After all, the real Dapper Don was finally brought down in part because of his flashiness and outsize reputation. Then again, maybe that’s a part of the story they’ll leave out of the film.

Lindsay’s Gotti Drama

Last month, it seemed Lindsay Lohan — who recently pleaded no contest to shoplifting — would begin her career rehab by playing Gotti Sr.’s daughter Victoria in Three Generations. But then, after word leaked that negotiations had broken down, producers announced that she would, in fact, be playing his daughter-in-law Kim. So that’s settled, right? Not so fast! Just last week, director Barry Levinson sparked another round of media speculation when he suggested that the starlet was ”possibly not” involved. He later clarified to EW that he simply meant that the entire project is in flux. ”I’m stepping into something that I have to rework. And that was my emphasis,” he explained. ”I guess it came out as a complete slight [against Lohan]…. But right now my focus is simply to write it.”