EXCLUSIVE: CAA has signed actor Taylor Kitsch. Here’s the guy who – after playing one of the great recent TV characters in fullback Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights and then a small but showy role as Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine – seemed like he was going to be the next big leading man. That was before he suffered a hellacious summer when the two big movies he starred in, John Carter and Battleship, both flopped. But Kitsch has put himself back on the track with a good showing in the Oliver Stone-directed Savages and most recently playing the Medal of Honor-winning Long Island-bred Navy SEAL Michael Murphy in the Peter Berg-directed Lone Survivor. Kitsch was last repped by WME but has been agent-less this year until now. He continues to be managed by Untitled Entertainment, and he next stars in the ensemble of HBO’s adaptation of the Larry Kramer play The Normal Heart, directed by Ryan Murphy.
Entertainment One has picked up U.S. rights to TIFF comedy The Grand Seduction, starring Brendan Gleeson (The Guard) and Taylor Kitsch (Lone Survivor) in the tale of a small town that mobilizes to woo a fast-living doctor (Kitsch) to become a resident so they can qualify to host an economy-boosting petrochemical plant. Gleeson plays the unemployed fisherman leading the town campaign. Pic is helmed by Don McKellar and adapted by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott from Scott’s 2003 French-Canadian original, La Grande Seduction. eOne’s Mark Slone exec produced with Jeff Sackman and Joe Iacono. Roger Frappier and Barbara Doran produced. A summer theatrical release is in the works via eOne, which also has rights in Canada and the UK. Jeff Sackman negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers with eOne’s Richard Rapkowski.
BREAKING: Taylor Kitsch, the actor who had a brilliant turn as Navy SEAL Michael Murphy in the gritty war-hero pic Lone Survivor, has just exited William Morris Endeavor. He has not moved to another agency but is retaining his manager at Untitled Entertainment, Stephanie Simon. His breakout role was in the fan fave series Friday Night Lights, and he weathered back-to-back flops in John Carter and Battleship in 2012 before rebounding with his key role in Lone Survivor (which was helmed by his Battleship director Peter Berg). Kitsch next stars in the HBO telefilm The Normal Heart, which premieres in May and already has a sequel in the works.
EXCLUSIVE: The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and Friday Night Lights alum Taylor Kitsch will co-star opposite Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer in The Normal Heart, HBO‘s original movie adaptation of the Tony-winning Larry Kramer play, which is being written by Kramer and directed by Ryan Murphy. The project tells the story of the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. Parsons plays gay activist Tommy Boatwright, reprising his role from the 2011 Broadway revival. He was previously attached to Murphy’s adaptation when it was eyed as a theatrical feature. Kitsch plays Bruce Niles, a closeted investment banker who becomes a prominent AIDS activist.
Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch will star in The Grand Seduction, which Don McKellar is directing from a screenplay by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott. Scott scripted the 2003 French original Le Grande Seduction. Cast will also include Gorden Pinsent, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones and Liane Balaban. Casting is by Heidi Leivitt and Lucie Robitaille.
Roger Frappier produced the original and is back for the remake, producing with Barbara Doran. Shooting is just getting underway in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and in various outport communities around Trinity Bay, Red Cliff, New Bonaventure and Port Rexton.
The film centers on the small harbor of Tickle Cove, which is in dire need of a doctor so the town can land a contract to secure a factory that will save the town from financial ruin. Village resident Murray French (Gleeson) leads the search, and when he finds Dr. Paul Lewis (Kitsch) he employs — along with the whole town — tactics to seduce the doctor to stay permanently.
Universal has released its first trailer for Savages, the Oliver Stone-directed adaptation of the bestselling Don Winslow novel about two pot growers from Laguna who are muscled by a Mexican drug cartel. When the cartel kidnaps the woman they share, the growers come up with a novel but dangerous way to pay the ransom. The film stars Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Benecio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch and Demian Bichir. The script was written by Shane Salerno & Winslow & Stone. Universal was impressed enough to move the film from fall into the July 6 slot. The trailer will play in front of American Reunion.
Universal has released its third trailer for Battleship, the Peter Berg-directed summer tentpole based on the Hasbro board game. The studio hopes this megabudget Taylor Kitsch-starrer hits the target better than did last weekend’s John Carter, which will result in a “you sunk my battleship”-type torpedo blow to Disney’s financial ledger. Universal opens Battleship May 18 in the U.S. and Canada. By then it will have earned some gross overseas, where it opens April 11. Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna also star. This trailer gives the latter some face time. The film certainly looks like it has a global calamity scale, and Berg has brought back not only his Friday Night Lights fixtures Tim Riggins (Kitsch), but also Landry Clarkie (Jesse Plemons). Texas forever!
Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster Circle Peter Berg’s ‘Lone Survivor;’ Emmett/Furla Financing For Universal
EXCLUSIVE: Emmett/Furla Films is coming aboard to finance Lone Survivor, and director Peter Berg is in talks with Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster to play three of the four lead Navy SEALs. Universal Pictures, which developed the movie, will distribute. An adaptation of the book by Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor tells the harrowing story of how Luttrell and his Navy SEAL team members fought to stay alive after being ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005 by Taliban forces during a covert mission in the Hindu Kush mountain region, where the team went to kill a terrorist leader. Wahlberg will play Luttrell in Berg’s followup to Battleship, which stars Kitsch.
Berg and Universal first began developing the project at Universal when the filmmaker signed on for Battleship. At the time, movies with sand in them and war weren’t working, but the opening-weekend grosses of Act Of Valor indicate that audiences are once again hungry for heroic war tales, especially those involving Navy SEALs. Kathryn Bigelow and Sony Pictures are getting underway with a drama revolving around the Navy SEAL Team 6′s hunt and killing of 9/11 terror attack mastermind Osama bin Laden. Lone Survivor is a different film, but it is expected to get underway this fall. Berg and Film 44 partner Sarah Aubrey, Akiva Goldsman, Barry Spikings will be producers as well as Randall Emmett and George Furla. Wahlberg will likely be involved in a producing capacity also.
Berg, who covered the Middle East terrain previously with the taut drama The Kingdom, has put in the work on this one. He wrote the Lone Survivor script after embedding with a SEAL team for a month in Iraq, an experience that really gave him a chance to see how they do their job. Berg wanted to make the film immediately, but two years ago the studio made him a bargain: direct Battleship and then follow with Lone Survivor. The timing hasn’t hurt, at all.
Here’s Disney’s game spot for John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton and starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe. Opens March 9.
If Peter Berg has his way, by Sunday night the New York Giants will be Super Bowl champions and there will be a lot more enthusiasm for Battleship, thanks to a 60-second spot that Berg and Universal will unleash during the first quarter. The first teaser got a “WTF” reaction as it introduced an alien component to a nautical theme culled from the venerable board game. Berg tells me that the the new long spot will introduce “more effects, more story and a bit more humor. Universal has spent generously for this, to show our aim to deliver major summer entertainment. The scope of the film will be apparent in the Super Bowl spot.” Berg’s influence is all over the commercial, including his convincing Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello to come up with the music for a spot which the studio won’t debut until game time.
Berg, who’ll be at the game, actually helmed two other TV spots that will be shown during the big game: He directed one for the returning NBC show The Voice, and another for the NFL which shows what the league is doing to improve awareness in trying to prevent head and neck injuries suffered on the field.
Disney has released a new trailer for John Carter, the science-fiction epic based on the series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs that stars Taylor Kitsch as the Confederate veteran and gentleman warrior who finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars, where he becomes a planetary legend.
EXCLUSIVE: ICM has signed Willem Dafoe, the veteran actor who just wrapped the Andrew Stanton-directed Disney film John Carter, with Taylor Kitsch playing the title character. Dafoe had been repped by WME. Dafoe has been working up a storm. He starred in The Hunter, a film that premiered at Toronto and has been acquired by Magnolia for release next year. He also completed production on Odd Thomas, the adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel that stars Anton Yelchin; the Abel Ferrara-directed 444 Last Day On Earth; and Boot Tracks with Michelle Monaghan. Dafoe continues to be managed by D/F Management.
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has acquired the Don Winslow bestselling novel Satori and will develop it as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio to play a Westerner, raised in Japan and taught an assassin’s skills, who gets caught up in the chaos of post-WWII as the U.S., Soviet Union, France and China maneuver for power in Southeast Asia in the early 1950s. Shane Salerno will write the script with Winslow, and John Lesher’s Grisdi Productions and DiCaprio’s Appian Way partner Jennifer Killoran are producing. Salerno is executive producer.
DiCaprio will play Nicholai Hel, raised in Japan by a martial arts expert and genius at Go, the complex chess-like Japanese game. The master, a Japanese general, passes on all his secrets and the student repays him by murdering his mentor as an act of devotion; the military leader would have been disgraced and killed as a war criminal.
For that act, Hel is thrown in solitary confinement in a Tokyo prison and tortured for three years. He is finally sprung by the CIA after agreeing to assassinate the Soviet commissioner to China. Hel is trained for the task by a beautiful French woman he falls in love with. Though he now sees a happy ending to the dangerous assignment, Hel is betrayed by his backers and, using his Go skills for strategy, makes his way through Vietnam hunted by American, Chinese, Russian and French intelligence agencies as well as a Corsican mob and Vietnamese criminal syndicate. It’s a sophisticated thriller, and the studio sees potential for its own Jason Bourne-type action franchise.
EXCLUSIVE: Deadline told you a week ago that things were looking up for The Lone Ranger for the first time since we broke the shocking news on Aug. 12 that Disney had pulled the plug over budget. I’m hearing that the studio is likely to have everything resolved by next week, and can start rehiring crew so that the picture will be ready to begin production in January or February. How that late start impacts the Dec. 21, 2012 release date remains to be seen, but Johnny Depp will get to play Tonto (Disney wouldn’t make the movie without him), and Armie Hammer will be back in as the title character. Ruth Wilson, the scene-stealing killer from Idris Elba’s British cop series Luther, is also expected back as the female lead.
Disney has gotten to this point after a painful overhaul of the movie by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski to bring to $215 million a budget the studio feared could reach $250 or more. Verbinski’s struggle has been to reach that number while retaining enough of the spectacle that made them say yes in the first place. The cutting process has included the reworking of deals for Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer, and trimming the production budget and the long shoot. That would enable Depp, Gore and Bruckheimer to re-team after making the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films together. The Lone Ranger is one of several huge-budget films that Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey are managing. The others include John Carter, the Andrew Stanton-directed adaptation of John Carter of Mars with Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch in the lead role, which has a budget around $250 million; and The Great and Powerful Oz, the Sam Raimi-directed James Franco-starrer, which is hovering around $200 million.
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: Johnny Depp is in Europe right now, but really wanted to make The Lone Ranger. According to one insider, “Let’s see how it all shakes out on Monday. There’s always a chance that it could go. You never know until you know.” The deeper story behind this production stoppage is about how movies are costing too much, studios are giving major pushback, and today’s backdrop of a crazy economy. Everyone involved is still intent on the project and still in discussions to see what can be done. But the studio’s concern is spending over $200M on a Western, even with Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp and a comedic slant. So clearly Disney took drastic action. Now the studio and filmmakers are trying to figure out the next step, either to shop it elsewhere or put it back together at a later date at a lower budget.
EXCLUSIVE: In a stunning development, Disney has shut down production on The Lone Ranger, the Gore Verbinski-directed period Western that was to star Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer and the script is by Justin Haythe. I’m told this all just happened, and Disney pulled the plug because of the budget. I’ve heard the filmmakers were trying to reduce the film’s cost from $250 million (some even say $275 million) down to $232 million. But it wasn’t the $200 million that Disney wanted to spend. And between Depp, Bruckheimer, and Verbinski, the gross outlay on the film is substantial.
When the plug was pulled, the film was still casting up, with Ruth Wilson, the serial killer from the BBC’s Luther series, set for the female lead. And The Lone Ranger was scheduled to be released Dec. 21, 2012, smack up against The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens Dec. 14, and the Brad Pitt-starrer World War Z, which was just slated for Dec. 21. This becomes the second major Western-themed project to bite the dust, after Universal halted a mammoth adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. And is it coincidence that The Lone Ranger halted right after another Western, Cowboys & Aliens, proved a pricey disappointment for DreamWorks and Universal?
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has quietly dropped out of Clue, one of the seven Hasbro games properties the studio contracted to make into movies in a ground-breaking six-year exclusive deal signed in 2008. Clue becomes the third project out of seven to be dropped by Universal (Monopoly and Magic, The Gathering were also kicked to the curb), but none of those projects are dead. In the case of the murder mystery board game Clue, Hasbro is funding the development and producing the film with Gore Verbinski’s Blind Wink. Verbinski, director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, Rango and the upcoming Lone Ranger, still plans to direct Clue, and he and Blind Wink’s John Krauss are producing with Hasbro’s Brian Goldner and Bennett Schneir.
They’ve just hired Flash Gordon scribes Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama to write the Clue script. The writers will draft a take that Verbinski and his fellow producers came up with that retains the murder mystery spirit of the board game, but broadens the setting to a global stage. Beyond scripting Flash Gordon for Sony Pictures, Sharpless and Sazama are redrafting Dracula Year Zero. That project’s still hanging on at Universal, after being halted just short of the start line because of a high budget, when Alex Proyas was directing and Sam Worthington was going to star. ICM reps the writers.
Is all this a clue that Universal no longer wants to roll the dice on board game movies? Insiders say no. Rather, they tell me that Universal and Hasbro gradually narrowed their focus to the four films that most made sense for the studio: Battleship, the Peter Berg-directed summer 2012 action movie that stars Taylor Kitsch and Liam Neeson, with Universal just releasing its first trailer (below); Stretch Armstrong, which has Rob Letterman directing and Twilight Saga’s Taylor Lautner attached to play the rubbery title character; Candy Land, which is being written by Kung Fu Panda 2 co-writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who’ve described the film as Lord of the Rings, with edibles; and Ouija, which has McG attached to direct and Platinum Dunes partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form producing with Ian Bryce and Hasbro’s Goldner and Schneir.
Finally, Universal Pictures has released a teaser trailer for Battleship, the Peter Berg-directed film that takes the popular board game and mashes it up with a science fiction alien premise. The movie has been the subject of heightened cynicism for the longest time, partly because of its tie-in to the Hasbro board game, its high price tag and the rumor that Universal put so many chips on the table it has been reticent to take chances on films like At the Mountains of Madness and Dark Tower (though studio insiders say Battleship had nothing to do with those decisions). There was even one straight-faced report that longtime studio chief Ron Meyer would be supplanted by Dick Cook because of the Hasbro deal and Battleship (this proved unfounded). All this negative ink came before anybody saw a frame of a movie that stars Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna. Berg told me recently that he hoped buzz would turn around once people started getting a look at the work they did, and this teaser provides the first opportunity. My feeling? Berg and Kitsch certainly made a good team on the TV series version of Friday Night Lights, which is giving Kitsch shots to become a movie star in this film, the Oliver Stone-directed Savages and Disney’s John Carter, based on John Carter of Mars. Maybe they’ve got something here.