We gave short shrift yesterday to the video of Sacha Baron Cohen‘s acceptance speech, when he took the stage to accept the Charlie Chaplin Britannia …
UPDATED, 9:45 AM: Kerry Washington found herself in the middle of Saturday Night Live’s new-cast kerfuffle this morning when the NBC late-night show announced it had booked her to make her hosting debut on November 2. SNL may have first approached ABC’s Scandal star last season, and booked her weeks ago, but the timing of SNL‘s announcement raised eyebrows this morning, putting her at the epicenter of the latest media storm over SNL’s performers. In case you were off the grid yesterday, SNL cast member Kenan Thompson made some news when he told TV Guide that, yes, it’s the show’s sixth consecutive year without a black female cast member because, turns out, there are just no black female comics out there who are qualified for the gig. “It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson said. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” When asked how the show plans to handle any spoofs of black female celebrities (a FLOTUS gag, maybe?) Thompson responded, “I don’t know. We just haven’t done them. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe [Jay Pharoah] will do it or something, but even he doesn’t really want to do it.”
Maybe they can do a FLOTUS sketch on November 2!
Thompson’s interview managed the impossible, driving from the media’s mind all thought of Miley Cyrus’ turn as Twerking Michele Bachmann on SNL’s second episode this season, as their attention returned to the casting controversy that made headlines when the show’s newbies were unveiled. While there is some diversity among the newcomers (Noel Wells, for instance is half-Tunisian/Hispanic), critics complain they’re too white — and especially lacking in black comediennes, which, the press in numbers pointed out yesterday, continues SNL‘s dismal track record on that score. Washington, who plays a hot-shot Washington, D.C. “fixer” having an affair with POTUS on ABC’s Shonda Rhimes hit Scandal, is known to be pretty outspoken and may wind up weighing in on the subject. Or not. If she doesn’t, there’s always Eminem, who’s returning for his sixth appearance as SNL’s musical guest that night.
EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks has thrown in the towel on Southpaw, the boxing drama that has Eminem returning to the screen for the first time since 2002′s 8 Mile, and Antoine Fuqua directing a script by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter. The plan was to start in January. DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider, who worked closely with Eminem and his team on 8 Mile while she ran Universal, basically gave the project back to the filmmakers to set up elsewhere and that’s what they are trying to do. Maybe DreamWorks was concerned the market is crowded with brawler films after The Fighter and the upcoming Gavin O’Connor-directed mixed martial arts drama Warrior, or maybe the studio’s cautious after its big bet on Cowboys & Aliens didn’t pay off. (I’m sure it’s coincidence that Snider once unplugged the Fuqua-directed version of American Gangster before putting the picture back together with Ridley Scott). But given the appetite of a crop of distributors looking for wide release product, I’d be surprised if this one, which is fully packaged, doesn’t get off the canvas quickly.
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.