Brad Pitt drops out of ‘State of Play’

Universal will try to recast by Nov. 29

This article was updated at 5:01 p.m.

Brad Pitt is out of “State of Play,” a development that has put that star-studded Universal Pictures drama in a state of flux, and has put studio and star on opposite sides of who caused his exit.

Pitt ankled the film early Wednesday, following two weeks of struggle and meetings with director Kevin Macdonald that prevented the film from making its original November 15 production start date. The studio considers Pitt to have walked out of a pay or play commitment, and is leaving open the option to sue him if the picture cannot be recast in time to keep the other actors in place.

The studio has already begun trying to replace Pitt. But while strike-related production postponements on films like “Angels & Demons” and “Shantaram” made stars like Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp suddenly available, Universal has a very small window to work with. If the studio doesn’t recast and begin production in L.A. and D.C., it will begin losing other cast.

Pitt was set to star with Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Robin Wright Penn. Mirren had a stop date so that she can film “Love Ranch” with her husband, director Taylor Hackford, and Joe Pesci early next year.

Pitt’s camp disputes that he violated a pay or play deal, that he ever approved a final script, or that he even wanted to drop out of the film that he has been the driving force behind for 16 months. At issue is a disagreement with the studio over the final direction of the shooting script.

The film has been a high U priority since the studio and producers Andrew Hauptman and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner landed the project after a hot bidding battle. Pitt became the first talent attachment, when he agreed to play a politico-turned-journalist whose loyalties are tested when he spearheads a newspaper’s investigation into a murder that leads to the fast-rising pol whose campaigns the journo once ran (Daily Variety, July 27, 2006).

Pitt sparked to a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who adapted the Paul Abbott-created British miniseries. While the actor went off and made several movies in quick succession, most recently “Burn After Reading,” Universal went through rewrites by the likes of Peter Morgan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. While the film attracted a sparkling cast, Pitt’s vision departed with that of the studio somewhere along that rewrite trail.

Numerous films have been unplugged within the last week because of the writer’s strike, but the others were by mutual agreement between the studios and the filmmakers. This was different. Pitt wanted to wait for a strike resolution to get a final rewrite that brought the film back to Carnahan’s original. Universal brass liked the rewritten script better, and told Pitt to honor a contractual commitment so that the studio could release the film for late 2008.

If the studio cannot recast, it is possible that growing bad blood will result in a lawsuit, rather than in Pitt getting that rewrite he wanted. Several years ago, the studio sued Mike Myers when he didn’t go forward with “Dieter,” a dispute that was eventually settled.

Universal confirmed Pitt’s exit in a statement.

“Brad Pitt has left the Universal Pictures production of `State of Play.’ We remain committed to this project and to the filmmakers, cast members, crew and others who are also involved in making the movie. We reserve all rights in this matter.”

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