Steve Daly
March 19, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

There’s one movie Ben Stiller most yearns to make — and it’s not another Focker flick. His dream is to go dramatic again by adapting Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel, What Makes Sammy Run? The book, which follows the rise of a Hollywood mogul, has long been controversial. Some consider its ruthless Jewish protagonist, Sammy Glick, a lightning rod for anti-Semitism — a particularly sensitive subject in post — Passion of the Christ Hollywood.

Stiller teamed up with TV writer Jerry Stahl to adapt Sammy while making Permanent Midnight, the 1998 heroin-addiction drama based on Stahl’s memoir. (Along with a turn in Neil LaBute’s Your Friends & Neighbors, Midnight was one of Stiller’s rare dramatic roles.) According to Stahl, Sammy nearly got made more than once, but always stalled. Now DreamWorks is ”negotiating” for the pair to take ”yet another pass” at the screenplay — ”so, it’s lurched out of the grave one more time.” Stiller has said he wants to direct and to play Sammy, a role Stahl calls ”funny, terrifying, and intense beyond words — perfect for Ben.”

But Stiller’s dad, Jerry, who’s Jewish (mom, Anne Meara, comes from Irish Catholic roots), can’t quite see it. ”I worry about that, I do,” says the elder Stiller. ”How can you like that character? It could be very inflammatory at this time, when Jewish people seem to be on the firing line.”

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