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‘Soldier’ of misfortune decommissioned

Actor's reps, U cite different reasons for plug pull

Universal has decided to scrub “Heart of a Soldier,” a West Point romancer starring Paul Walker. But getting an explanation as to why depends largely on whom you ask.

According to the film’s producer, the young star was not getting along with the studio. Studio execs, on the other hand, cite a weak script and trouble casting a female lead.

“I think it was a combination of factors,” said “Soldier” producer Robert Fried. “But the overwhelming reason was a strained relationship between (Universal) and certain members of Paul Walker’s representation.”

Reps for Walker insisted that the relationship between Walker and the studio remained strong, citing his willingness to publicize this summer’s tentpole, “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

A U rep declined comment.

When U execs were not happy with the latest rewrite of the “Soldier” script, and there still was no lead actress cast, studio sources said it made business sense to pull the plug.

Anger management

But sources at the studio acknowledged tempers had flared in recent months between Walker’s reps and Universal over legal issues as well as planning for Walker’s “2 Fast” media tour.

“It was becoming more trouble than it was worth,” said one studio exec.

Pic follows a West Point cadet from humble beginnings who falls in love with a Manhattan socialite and must choose between love and the Army in “An Officer and a Gentleman” fashion. A Valentine’s Day 2004 release was being contemplated.

Shooting was skedded to begin at West Point — which rarely opens its campus to Hollywood — on June 18. Production would later move to Toronto.

“It isn’t like it’s one of their big-budget films,” said another source. “It was a vehicle for one of their stars, and they had too many life’s-too-short problems on this one.”

Cost up to $4 million

Though a modest production, U had already invested in “Heart of a Soldier.” Between Walker’s pay-or-play deal, a holding fee for director Rod Lurie, as well as scribe fees, sources close to the pic estimated that U’s cost on “Soldier” had already run to nearly $4 million.

To fan the flames, Walker’s reps sent a legal letter to Universal stating that a long-standing option on him at Miramax would make him unavailable for “Soldier.”

While Miramax was willing to be flexible on its option, U was upset at having the issue dropped on its doorstep at such a late stage in the process.

In fact, Walker and U had just recently renegotiated his compensation for appearing in the film.

Lurie, who himself was a West Point cadet and played a role in securing the military academy as a location, wrote an earlier draft of the script. The most recent rewrite was done by Robert Jacobs.

As far as casting went, Lurie had recently screen-tested six actresses. First choice for the part was said to be Katie Holmes, though no offer was made. Last week, Holmes signed on to appear in New Regency’s “First Daughter,” and studio execs said they were underwhelmed by the remaining choices.

Walker is managed by Nine Yards Entertainment and repped by ICM and Nelson, Felker & Levine.

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