EXCLUSIVE: Jennifer Connelly is in talks to reunite with A Beautiful Mind scribe Akiva Goldsman as she joins the cast of his directorial debut, Winter’s Tale. The Warner Bros film, based on the Mark Helprin novel, is about a dying young woman (Downton Abbey‘s Jessica Brown Findlay) who falls in love with a thief (Colin Farrell) who breaks into her palatial home on Manhattan’s West Side. Connelly will join her A Beautiful Mind and Noah co-star Russell Crowe, in a cast that features William Hurt, Will Smith, Matt Bomer, Lucy Griffiths and Eva Marie Saint. Connelly is repped by CAA and The Schiff Company.
BREAKING: In a unique deal, Weed Road Pictures has brought in Safehouse Pictures to partner in its first-look deal at Warner Bros which has been extended through 2014. Akiva Goldsman will continue …
EXCLUSIVE: Akiva Goldsman has found his leading lady for Winter’s Tale, the Warner Bros adaptation of the 1983 Mark Helprin novel that the Oscar-winning scribe will make his feature directorial debut. I’m told that Jessica Brown Findlay beat out a slew of young actresses for the female lead. Findlay plays Lady Sybill Crawley in Downton Abbey.
In Winter’s Tale, she will play a dying woman who falls in love with a thief who breaks into her home, a palatial West Side mansion, in a drama that takes place in 19th century and contemporary Manhattan. Right now, Warner Bros is close to setting the thief, with Aaron Johnson and Garrett Hedlund the frontrunners. In addition, Russell Crowe is in final negotiations to play half a demon named Pearly Soames, and Will Smith is rumored to be attached as well. The latter two are smaller roles and came out of past collaborations between the actors and the writer. Goldsman, who won his Oscar for scripting A Beautiful Mind, worked with Crowe on that film, and Smith on I Am Legend. Shooting will begin October 15 in New York. WME reps Findlay, who is managed by Management 360 and repped in the UK by Troika.
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has closed deals with Akiva Goldsman and Overbrook Entertainment to produce another installment of I Am Legend, the 2007 hit film. The intention is for Will Smith to reprise his role as scientist Robert Neville, who was the last man on Earth doing battle with a mutated mob in New York City after an apocalyptic man-made virus wiped out the population. A deal was made with Arash Amel to write the script. The film is not being called a prequel, which had been rumored for the past few years. But clearly Warner Bros sees more room to roam on a film that grossed $584 million worldwide. The original film is based on the novel by Richard Matheson.
Akiva Goldsman Inks Overall Deal With HBO, Sets Up Western Drama About Doc Holliday With Ron Howard Attached To Direct
EXCLUSIVE: Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman has signed a two-year exclusive overall deal with HBO. The first project under the pact is an untitled Western drama about Doc Holliday, the famed gambler and gunslinger of the Old West. Feature scribes Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Accepted) will write the script and will executive produce with Goldsman and his producing partner Kerry Foster. Ron Howard is attached to direct the potential pilot. His father, Rance Howard, will serve as co-producer along with his wife Judy Howard. The project is inspired by Mary Doria Russell’s critically praised novel Doc, which was published in May. Doc Holliday is often portrayed as an ailing sidekick (he died from tuberculosis at age 36), best known for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Val Kilmer portrayed him in the movie Tombstone). But the HBO project aims to put Holliday front and center as the series protagonist, an educated Southern gentleman and dentist by trade, thrust into the cruel and violent world of the Old West in order to salvage his ailing health. The series will feature the never-before-explored love triangle between Holliday, his prostitute wife, Kate Elder and best friend, Wyatt Earp — all set against the lawlessness and desperation of a rapidly changing society.
Goldsman describes the project as “all in the family” when it comes to auspices. His partner at Weed Road Foster came upon the source material. Goldsman mentioned the idea to frequent collaborator Ron Howard while the two were discussing their latest project, The Dark Tower. Howard is set to direct and Goldsman is writing the adaptation of the Stephen King’s book series, which is looking for a home as a feature trilogy and an accompanying limited TV series after being put in turnaround by NBCUniversal. Goldsman, who quipped that he is following the rule “work with Ron whenever possible” after his first collaboration with the director, A Beautiful Mind, earned him a writing Oscar, also penned the Howard-directed The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Cinderella Man. Howard expressed interest in the Western TV project, and it turned out that his father, veteran actor Rance Howard, has a fascination with Doc Holliday. So Rance Howard and his wife came on board as co-producers and Ron Howard became attached as director of the potential pilot. (Howard, whose company with Brian Grazer Imagine is very active in TV, has not directed a TV pilot yet.) Meanwhile, Foster’s husband, Adam Cooper, and his writing partner, Bill Collage, came on board to write the Western. Originally, the project was eyed as a mini-series and was pitched as such to HBO. The pay cable network suggested turning it into a series instead.
BREAKING: NBCUniversal’s new owners at Comcast have given a vote of confidence to the studio’s feature film operation. They’ve exercised an option on Universal Pictures’ Chairman Adam Fogelson and extended his contract through 2014. I’m told that Fogelson is, in turn, in the process of exercising the option of Donna Langley and she will continue as the studio’s co-chairman. They will also keep their executive team intact. Fogelson will continue to have full day-to-day operating responsibility for the Motion Picture Group, reporting to Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer (whose contract was recently re-upped through 2015) and will now also report to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke.
While Universal has had its ups and downs, higher-ups are clearly convinced that Fogelson, Langley and their team are making progress. They’ve had recent hits –Bridesmaids, Hop! and Fast Five– but also had some recent misses that include The Dilemma, Change-Up and Cowboys & Aliens. In the latter case, the studio was on the hook for one-third of the film, and shared that third with Relativity Media. It has also been a year in which Fogelson and his team have made some painful decisions and let pricey productions go. That began with the Guillermo Del Toro-directed At the Mountains of Madness, which Universal developed for years and which was ready to go with Tom Cruise, until the studio made a late decision not to go forward because of the possibility the $150M film could carry an R-rating. Universal also dropped two projects that were in advanced stages of development: The Dark Tower, the Akiva Goldsman-directed adaptation of the Stephen King novel series that was to be made into three feature films and two limited-run TV series, with the first film and TV segment directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer and Goldsman; and Oiuja, the Hasbro board game that had McG directing and Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes partners producing with Hasbro. The moves were surprising because Howard and Grazer are cornerstone filmmakers for Universal; and Del Toro and Hasbro have overall deals there. Ouija is one of several Hasbro properties the studio dropped, the others being the Gore Verbinski-directed Clue, the Ridley Scott-directed Monopoly and Magic, The Gathering. These were part of a groundbreaking deal the studio made with the toymaker several years ago, but the studio and Hasbro have re-focused their attention solely on Battleship, Stretch Armstrong, and Candy Land.
UPDATE EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have reached a milestone unusual in Hollywood: partners for 25 years. When they first got together, Grazer was a TV producer. Howard, after growing up on the small screen in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, had only directed a couple of TV movies and the low budget Roger Corman-produced Grand Theft Auto. Grazer and Howard have been at it together ever since, building a company that over 25 years has been one of the most consistent generators of content. Their TV series output includes 24, Parenthood, Arrested Development and Friday Night Lights; their movies have grossed $13.5 billion worldwide. That includes A Beautiful Mind, which won Howard the Academy Award for Best Director. Grazer and Howard shared Best Picture Oscars that night as well. Not everything they’ve done has succeeded, of course. They they took their company public and repurchased the shares; they helped launched and fold the online venture Pop.com; their most recent film together, the adult comedy The Dilemma, was a misfire that created controversy over the inclusion of the word “gay” in a trailer. They’ve had way more hits than misses.
In honor of Imagine’s Silver Anniversary, Deadline invited Howard and Grazer to look back over their quarter century together, and into a future that includes something never tried before by anyone in Hollywood. They’re adapting Stephen King’s 7-novel series The Dark Tower into a film trilogy, and a limited run TV series in between. It has pushed the envelope enough that their longtime home studio, Universal Pictures, postponed a planned late summer start until next year and asked the filmmakers to cut the budget. Some question the studio’s resolve on such a massive undertaking. The studio has to green light the film by next month or the rights revert to Imagine, Akiva Goldsman and King, who are determined to make it regardless.
DEADLINE: Not many marriages of any kind last 25 years in Hollywood. What is most important about the anniversary?
HOWARD: It’s such a challenging time to get movies made. And yet, look at all we have coming out. Tower Heist, the Gus Van Sant movie Restless, J Edgar with Clint Eastwood and Leo DiCaprio, Cowboys & Aliens, this big broad appeal four quadrant fantasy adventure story with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. With The Playboy Club getting on the air, and Parenthood getting picked up, I’m proud we’re doing what we’ve always done. A wide variety of projects that got made because we care and put in the energy to get them done in light of how difficult it is these days.
DEADLINE: Simple as that?
HOWARD: Because I’m in New York, we’re not forced to stare at each other’s faces 24/7. But I think that’s not really it. We love what we’re doing, we have fun doing it and our sensibilities are in sync. In a business that can create so many feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, I learned to trust in that. Brian is smart and cares about me doing well and feeling good about what I’m doing. It’s a partnership built on support. It has been that way since the beginning.
GRAZER: It works because we have similar tastes and not only gravitate toward the same material but also what lives inside the core of the movie it becomes. We’ve done, and Ron has directed, all kinds of genres. We have a common interest in the humanity aspect of a movie, regardless if it’s a comedy or a drama. We also share a similar work ethic.
DEADLINE: When you cover all genres, does Imagine have a wheelhouse? For a company looking to last, is it advisable to have one?
HOWARD: The process is what gets Brian and me excited, whatever the genre. Not specializing has given our company a sense of flexibility and adaptability to whatever the market or the zeitgeist is suggesting. We’ve always respected each other as creative people. If Brian loves something and I don’t quite get it, I’ll tell him that but I’ll never try to impede the progress. He’s the same with me. With Apollo 13, I wasn’t sure the genre would work, because space films hadn’t done that well. Brian was instantly so excited about it, and made me realize we were onto something. 8 Mile, I don’t know anything about rap. This was something he understood. I didn’t know how to make that movie, but I recognized a great idea. Whenever the two of us get excited, on films like Splash, Night Shift and Parenthood, those have resulted in the building blocks of the company. I’ve always liked TV but I phased it out for awhile and it was Brian’s perseverance that has made us strong in both TV and films. Independent companies are rarely strong in both.
GRAZER: What we’ve do is agree on the moral center of a project, but nobody’s better at finding the language of a particular movie than Ron. He’s got a grasp of understanding new vocabularies, whether it’s the The Da Vinci Code, fantasy like Cocoon or Splash, or Backdraft and The Grinch. He is great at inhabiting a world and completely understanding and expressing its language. In A Beautiful Mind, he entered that world and understood the medical science of mental illness. So there have been times where he led the charge, and I was drawn in by his excitement.
DEADLINE: What was the last hard conversation or professional disagreement you can remember?
HOWARD: I can’t think of one offhand, but even when we have disagreements, I can’t think of a case where one of us ever said, ‘Oh, please don’t do this.’ If there’s a lot of passion from one or the other, then the support of the company is going to be there.
EXCLUSIVE: TV, film and comic book writer Mark Verheiden has been tapped to co-write with Akiva Goldsman the NBC TV series The Dark Tower. The project is part of a massive joint deal Universal Pictures and NBC Universal TV …
EXCLUSIVE: Javier Bardem is close to sealing his deal with Universal Pictures to play gunslinger Roland Deschain in The Dark Tower, the mammoth adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that’ll span three movies and a limited run TV series in between each film. Director Ron Howard begins production on the first film in September, and he’ll also direct the first TV segment. Akiva Goldsman has scripted the film and the initial TV component. Imagine Entertainment chief Brian Grazer is producing the films with Goldsman and King. Goldsman will produce the TV part through his Weed Road banner.
Bardem, who won the Oscar for his ferocious portrayal of a hit man in No Country For Old Men and who was more recently nominated for Biutiful, is a strong match to play the last living member of a knightly order of gunslingers. Deadline revealed in late January that Bardem had been offered the role of Deschain, who becomes humanity’s last hope to save civilization as he hits the road to find the Dark Tower. Along the way, he encounters characters, good and bad, in a world that has an old West feel.
Bardem’s WME reps are putting the finishing touches on the deal, and they are close enough that Howard has begun meeting with other actors to cast the roles around Bardem. It’s a complex deal, almost unprecedented, because it calls for Bardem to star in the feature film and the TV component. His deal will also include options for two sequels (the TV program that runs between the second and third films will be a prequel). I’m told it will add up to a career-best payday for Bardem. Howard and Goldsman have told me they see the trilogy as their answer to the Peter Jackson-directed adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. While Middle Earth had a mystical medieval feel, The Dark Tower vibe is one that Goldsman described as “an alternate Americana, one part post-apocalyptic, one part Sergio Leone.”