Universal exec makes daring, diverse choices

Production execs hate singling out their favorite projects, but Donna Langley will offer a few when pressed: “United 93,” “Children of Men” and “Knocked Up.”

The choices are instructive for their daring and diversity.

“United 93,” the first movie Universal’s production president greenlit for the studio, was a wrenching experience. “Children of Men,” a futuristic fable she inherited, paved the way for the studio’s pact with director Alfonso Cuaron and Mexican compadres Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. As for “Knocked Up,” Langley can’t say enough about helmer Judd Apatow and his sweet, yet boundary-pushing, comedy. “I take zero credit for what Judd is doing,” Langley says. “I just get out of his way.”

The studio has projects in the works with all three — always a good sign.

Langley, who had been exec VP of production under Mary Parent and Scott Stuber’s regime, moved up to the president’s spot in April 2005, with Jon Gordon joining her in August that year as co-prexy. Last July, she became sole title holder.

The U.K. native has presided over a wide-ranging slate since her ascendancy, ranging from kudos contenders to breezy comedies like “You, Me and Dupree” and franchise threequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

This year, the studio will bow “The Kingdom,” Peter Berg’s political thriller originally skedded for an earlier release; “American Gangster,” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” helmer Mike Nichols’ political saga starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Langley’s biggest challenge? “Finding fresh and unique ways to tell universal stories,” while maintaining a slate of 12 to 20 films a year, “and being mindful of the competitive landscape and what’s going on in the zeitgeist.”

The studio’s growing focus on the global market means added attention to whether projects can travel well.

“It’s a challenging time to have this job,” Langley says.

Vocation: “Foster films with a global focus.”

Recent breakthrough: Greenlit “Knocked Up” — “I’m so proud of it.”

Role model: “My parents,” Langley says. “They encouraged me to be independent.”

Career mantra: “Keep your head down and do the work. That’s it. There’s no substitute for that.”

What’s next: “I’m proud to continue the great legacy my predecessors left us.”

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