Breaking news: after a long, drawn-out casting process between Warner Bros. and Steven Soderbergh, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker has decided to opt out and will not be directing "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," a project he and writer Scott Z. Burns have been developing since early 2010. Soderbergh was in meetings with WB brass this evening in Los Angeles and could not come to an agreement over casting and budgets and decided to part ways on the project.
With the studio already hemming and hawing over casting options, this week they delivered a low $60 million dollar budget proposal for what is supposed to be the first in a tentpole franchise threequel. Soderbergh felt the figure wasn’t enough for a ‘60s set period spy film that’s set on four continents, and with a March date looming, he could no longer wait for the studio to refine numbers or set cast, officially pulling out of the project.
Insiders indicate that Warner Bros. have been hedging their bets with casting for months now. When George Clooney dropped out of the project because of a bad back, the studio was relieved, wanting to start the franchise with a much younger actor.
When Soderbergh presented his top two choices – Michael Fassbender and “The Killing” star Joel Kinnaman – the studio were both positive and yet cold on the actors, only to hire them both for two other WB projects – “Londongrad” and “Arthur & Lancelot” – months later (which reportedly never sat well the filmmaker either).
Just as WB were beginning to cotton to the idea of Fassbender as the lead, casting talks were thrown for a loop when Johnny Depp read the script and became interested in the Russian ‘U.N.C.L.E’ spy role of Illya Kuryakin, after the “The Lone Ranger” had fallen into budgetary problems at Disney. Several weeks were eaten up when Jerry Bruckheimer fought to keep the ‘Ranger’ alive and yet Warner Bros. believed they could actually get Depp in the film, securing the kind of name-brand actor they always wanted.
While various younger names were once presented as options (Ryan Gosling, for example), WB never truly knew what they wanted outside of a viable A-lister. Conversations then turned to Matt Damon who loved the script, but bowed out of the conversations early on because he was preoccupied with prepping his directorial debut that is scheduled relatively around the same time that ‘U.N.C.L.E’ has been set for in 2012.
WB pushed to shoot the film the following year, in early 2013 with Damon in the lead, but Soderbergh – who definitely wants to make the Liberace biopic "Behind The Candelabra" his last film before retirement/sabbatical – held his ground. Names like Bradley Cooper, Joel Edgerton were brought up (the filmmaker met with the former), but sources tell us offers were never actually made to either actor and the news of such claims were agent moves to force the studios hand.
Last week Soderbergh met with Channing Tatum who was ready to turn up for any role the filmmaker wanted him for, but with an indecisive studio and a budgeting issue in the air, this idea never even had time to congeal. Considering that "Contagion" was made for $58 million and has grossed $127 million worldwide to date and the film still has yet to open in a few territories, the move seems slightly odd, but budget belts are still tightening these days.
Moreover it was Warner who came to Soderbergh in the first place and asked him his take on the long-gestating project that had gone through several iterations that the studio were never content with (and the movie already had $5 million out against its proposed budget from past iterations, including one by David Dobkins).
In the interim, WB will have to start over and may have to scrap their planned March shoot date. It would not surprise us if this project goes back into some form of development as the ‘60s-set Soderbergh/Burns version was very specific to the way they work and envision films. Meanwhile, Soderbergh is still looking ahead. Insiders tell us that he’s looking to shoot another film in the March 2012 time frame where he would have been shooting ‘U.N.C.L.E.,’ had he and the studio seen eye to eye. Considering his rapid clip – and the fact he’s been looking at potential scripts for a few weeks now as the writing had been on the wall – it’s not inconceivable that the filmmaker can bang out a quick picture before he shoots his ‘Liberace’ film this summer.
Soderbergh's next movie, “Haywire” comes out in January. His stripper movie, "Magic Mike," ironically acquired this fall by Warner Bros., hits in the summer fo 2012 -- though its acquisition was not a assuaging manuever during the casting tug of war; the studio is generally interested and plans to release it wide. The plan is that "Behind The Candelabra" will be his last film. At least for the foreseeable future.