Tiarra Mukherjee
May 31, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Copland is supposed to be Sylvester Stallone’s Pulp Fiction. A small prestige film, it could very well reinvent the action hero’s career — a necessity in light of his slip-sliding box office. But the $10 million Miramax flick, for which Stallone is getting scale wages, isn’t as small as it used to be.

Now joining Stallone in this story of a hearing-impaired New Jersey sheriff on the trail of corrupt cops is Robert De Niro, who’ll play an internal-affairs detective also on the hunt. And in recent weeks Ray Liotta (who took a smaller role after the lead went to Stallone), Peter Berg, Daniel Stern, and Michael Rapaport have jumped aboard the Copland paddy wagon. (Like Stallone, many of the actors are taking major salary cuts, but they may eventually get a share of the profits.)

De Niro and others cite the gritty screenplay by writer-director James Mangold (Heavy) as the lure. ”It’s really smart,” says Stern, who’ll play Stallone’s deputy. But most are signing up for the same reason Stallone did: Trading in a big paycheck for a status part in an ensemble pic is a good way to get noticed by Oscar. ”It’s a trend,” says Meryl Poster, a Miramax senior VP. ”Actors like Michael J. Fox in Blue in the Face and Timothy Hutton in Beautiful Girls are taking more chances because they want to spread their wings and change their careers.”

With more than 50 roles to fill — including three significant female parts yet to be cast — the makers of Copland are confident they won’t have too much trouble finding stars willing to wear a badge. ”I’ve been involved in movies where all of a sudden the interest peaks,” says Copland‘s producer, Cary Woods, ”but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

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