When a producer says that they have their lead actor or actress “attached” it could mean that they are indeed contracted (see play-or-play) to star in the movie and have scheduled their time to rehearse and play the part. Or it could mean that they have read the script, like the role, and schedule permitting (and subject to negotiation), will be in the motion picture. Or, it could mean that the actor’s agent has discussed the part over a cup of coffee with the casting director, no one’s read the script, but the actor might like the role. Or, quite often, neither the actor nor their agent has ever heard of the film, never talked to anyone about it and are probably too busy to be in it anyway.
“In filmmaking, a guarantee is a term of an actor’s contract that guarantees remuneration if, through no fault of their own, the artist is released from the contract. Such an arrangement is known informally as a “play-or-pay” contract”. http://bit.ly/114IrxD Wikipedia.
A “pay or play” offer is often backed up with at least 10% of the agreed upon shoot fee being placed in an escrow account. If the film is not started by a specific date, the actor would be released from their obligation and can keep the money. Think of it as a down payment on their services.
You have to be careful about who you talk to about your actor being “attached.” I was down in Bogota, Colombia working on a two film slate and meeting with Colombian investors. One of our films was a romantic comedy set to star Sophia Vergara, and was being produced and directed by Ron Shelton. Shelton told me that he had contacted Ms. Vergara about the role, but I was not in on their conversation. When I was pitching the investment to one of the Colombian businessmen, he said, “Sophia, has agreed to star in your picture? Wonderful, she is my niece. I’ll have to call her and congratulate her”. A moment of panic flooded my brain because I knew that Sophia Vergara had no pay-or-play offer, had not scheduled her time to be in our film and may or may not have read the script.
Yeah, she was attached alright, somewhere between committed and “who are you?”