EXCLUSIVE & UPDATED: The Lionsgate project has been off, then on, then off, and now on again. The studio in May had been on the verge of announcing that Arnold Schwarzenegger was starring in its long-in-development Western* titled Last Stand, set up as the English-language debut of director Kim-Jee-Woon. Then the actor pulled out just before his personal scandal went public and deep-sixed his marriage to Maria Shriver. But now the actor is back in the project and aiming to test his popularity post-divorce. I’ve learned that Arnold’s deal with Lionsgate is not nearly as rich as the one CAA made for him in QED International’s Cry Macho, which was a $12.5M salary plus 25% first dollar gross back end. (See my previous, Schwarzenegger Closes Next Film: Worldwide Rights Will Sell At Cannes Fest) Poor Bill Block brought that project to Cannes in the middle of Schwarzenegger’s scandal and now it looks to be dead or at best delayed until February 2012. So now Last Stand would start in September of this year. “It’s a property which a zillion directors fell in love with: the good, the bad, the weird,” a Lionsgate exec told me when I first heard Schwarzenegger was in. “It’s an old-fashioned Western* specifically designed for a 63-year-old broken-down guy with a moral decision whether Arnold decides to stand up for his town. We always needed an iconic figure for it.”

[The studio exec who read the script told me it was an oater — but it’s not. “It was miscommunicated to you that the film is a Western (although it has that classic feel for sure with Arnold as a Sheriff!),” a very apologetic insider now says. “It’s more of a Fast And Furious at the border with high speed car chases, drug cartels and the like.”]

When I asked Lionsgate if Arnold is still a star despite the scandal, an exec assured me, “I can tell you from The Expendables it was electrifying when Arnold came on. He is still a big piece of news.”

Liam Neeson had been attached at one point, but he kept pushing it back as his schedule grew more crowded. Ultimately, Lionsgate moved on. Arnold then fell in love with the movie several months ago, and Lionsgate spent the ensuing time snagging a director. The studio had already pre-sold the $30M-budgeted movie overseas with Liam so will tell its partners about the switch to Arnold shortly. Schwarzenegger briefly teamed up with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee to create a toon superhero based on his nickname while in office, The Governator. But that project got put on hold because of the scandal, too.