Actor formally withdraws from Fox film

After waiting at the station for almost three months, Denzel Washington decided he won’t be catching the “Unstoppable” train.

Insiders close to the actor confirm that after waiting for 20th Century Fox to set a budget and a start date, Washington has formally withdrawn from the film and is looking at other projects for the fall.

Interestingly, once Washington and his reps came to that decision, passed on Fox’s offer and started entertaining other projects, Fox prepared to come back to the table with a different offer that the studio hoped would entice the two-time Oscar winner to re-consider his decision.

Welcome to a normal day in the tug-of-war between stars and studios in the current economic climate.

Washington had planned since April to re-team with Tony Scott, this time to play a veteran engineer who jumps into a locomotive with a young conductor (“Star Trek’s” Chris Pine) to halt an unmanned runaway train filled with a toxic chemical.

The project has been shaky for weeks (Daily Variety, June 29). While Washington and Scott will keep talking this week as the longtime collaborators promote “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ in Europe, the actor’s reps at WME confirm he is available.

Fox has long been passionate about its runaway-train project, previously trying incarnations with directors Robert Schwentke and Martin Campbell. Though it had an enviable combination of director, star and up-and-coming co-star, the studio was choking on budget. Sources said that after cutting a $107 million tab down to $100 million, Fox wants it in the low $90 million range. The studio asked Scott to cut his salary from $9 million to $6 million, and wanted Washington to shave $4 million off his $20 million fee. Washington declined.

The picture also ran into poor timing: The Scott-Washington-John Travolta train tale “Pelham” has posted an unspectacular $60 million gross at a time when studios are looking to trim every dime. Every film that isn’t a branded summer tentpole is getting squeezed, and stars and their reps will have to battle to hold onto hard-won salary quotes. Some will take pay cuts or defer, and others, like Todd Phillips did on “The Hangover” and Jim Carrey on “Yes Man,” will gamble their paydays to become revenue partners with studios. For now, Washington has simply said, no thanks, and seeing what else is out there.

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