The impending strike by actors is creating a nightmare for production company executives in search of A-list talent for film projects.

Such is the case for Christine Forsyth-Peters, president of Robert Evans Productions (at Paramount) and her anticipated project "10 Ways to Lose a Guy."

Gwyneth Paltrow had been set as the lead but had to drop out because of heavy scheduling conflicts through the end of June, when contracts covering writers and actors are set to expire.

As a result, Peters may replace Paltrow with Kate Hudson ("Almost Famous") after Hudson finishes "Four Feathers" in London.

Ed Burns, who was the top pick as the male lead in the movie, was keenly interested in doing it. But Burns also has scheduling conflicts, so there is a good chance that Ben Stiller will get the gig.

So what actor is top banana at the box-office these days, and who gets the best deals?

"It depends on the movie," says Robert Buxbaum at Reel Source Inc. "If it is something their fans really love, like a sequel, then they will get top dollar. Take Jim Carrey. If he did another 'Ace Ventura,' he would probably get 50 percent of (its worldwide gross), and the same for Tom Cruise in 'Mission Impossible,' or Mel Gibson in 'Lethal Weapon.'"

Right now, Tom Hanks, whose new movie "Cast Away" blew away the competition in its opening two weeks, is the golden boy in Hollywood, according to Buxbaum, even though Hanks ranks behind Cruise, Carrey, Gibson and Harrison Ford in box-office draw.

"(Hanks) makes very savvy choices in films," says Buxbaum.

But that wasn't always the case with Hanks, who had plenty of bombs before his breakthrough film "Big."

For instance, there was "Turner and Hootch" and "Bonfire of the Vanities." But after that came a string of hits, including "Forrest Gump," "Apollo 13," "Green Mile," and "Saving Private Ryan."

Hanks stands to make a bundle on "Cast Away," which has thus far grossed more than $100 million and may ultimately do over $500 million in worldwide business. With 2 percent to 5 percent of the gross as his executive producing fee, his $20 million acting price tag, and a piece of the commercial tie-ins, Hanks could walk away with a paycheck of $80 million or more.

Hanks has a full plate of projects for 2001, including producing "Band of Brothers" with Steven Spielberg, a 10-part TV miniseries based on World War II.

Says Hanks: "I try to project myself into it. When I was 22 years old, I was trying to figure out how to get myself to college on time. When these guys were 22, they were trying to figure out where they were in Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, having jumped out of planes with 100 pounds of gear on their backs."

Another of Hanks' upcoming projects is "Road to Perdition," with "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes. It will be Hanks' first role as a bad guy.

"He can play anything except a young suave guy," says Buxbaum. "He is the guy next door, non-threatening to men, and women love him."

Life-imitates-art for Heidi Mark, the Playboy centerfold wife of Vince Neil of Motley Crue who plays the wife of a musician in the forthcoming "Rock Star."

Contributing reporter Anita Talbert can be reached via e-mail at Anita@la.com.

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