Actor replaces Pitt in Universal film

Russell Crowe has committed to star for Universal in “State of Play” in a development that keeps the Kevin Macdonald-directed film on course to begin production this year.

Crowe joins Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Robin Wright Penn, who were all locked into pay-or-play deals when Brad Pitt abruptly exited the project just before Thanksgiving. Producers are Andrew Hauptman and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. Matthew Michael Carnahan wrote the script.

Crowe will play a politico-turned-journalist who spearheads his newspaper’s investigation into a killing that leads to a fast-rising pol (Norton). The journalist faces two conflicts: He once ran campaigns for the pol and was his confidant, and the journo develops a romance with the pol’s estranged wife (Wright Penn).

Unclear is whether Universal will take legal action against Pitt after issuing a statement upon his departure that it would leave all options open. Pitt’s reps at the time indicated he wanted to make the movie but wasn’t pleased with the script.

The studio immediately went to Crowe, who will have made three consecutive pictures for the studio. He just starred with Denzel Washington in the hit “American Gangster” and will segue from “State of Play” into “Nottingham,” a U drama that is a revisionist take on the Robin Hood legend and a reappraisal of the Sheriff of Nottingham, whom Crowe will play. Imagine’s Brian Grazer and director Ridley Scott, the team behind “American Gangster,” will reunite for “Nottingham” in March.

The studio was optimistic that it would keep the “State of Play” cast, even with a November production start pushing to early December in L.A. and D.C. Mirren had an issue in that she needs to finish in time to start production with Joe Pesci in “Love Ranch,” a drama being directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford. Expectation is she’ll be done in time, and Crowe will be finished in time to make “Nottingham.”

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