Rowan Atkinson to revise starring role in British spy pic
Universal Pictures is bringing back bumbling British spy Johnny English for a follow-up assignment. Studio and U.K.-based shingle Working Title have quickly assembled a sequel to the 2003 comedy starring Rowan Atkinson and are eyeing an August start date. The 2003 comedy, which cost $40 million to make, earned a mere $28 million stateside but did huge business overseas for a $161 million worldwide haul. Move to resuscitate “Johnny English” comes on the heels of Uni scrapping its dramatic thriller “Cartel” five weeks before production was scheduled to begin, illustrating how the new Universal regime — headed by Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson — is far more amenable to make a safe comedy rather than risky edgy fare like “Cartel.” Universal has suffered a string of disappointments with recent adult-skewing serious pics like “Public Enemies,” “State of Play” and “Green Zone.” Speculation has been mounting for months that the studio is moving away from weightier projects and has begun to aim for the box-office funnybone. Universal greenlit two pics just before Easter, both of which are comedies: an untitled Kristen Wiig starrer being produced by Judd Apatow and the Ryan Reynolds-Jason Bateman vehicle “The Change-Up.” “Johnny English 2,” which sees Atkinson reprising his role as the Brit baffoon, fits into a similar mold and will likely be made in the same budget range as the first. Oliver Parker (“St. Trinian’s”) is onboard direct. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are producing, and Debra Hayward is overseeing the project for the company. Former Working Title exec Chris Clark is also producing. Hamish McColl — who wrote another Atkinson starrer, 2007’s “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” — penned the screenplay. Will Davies and Atkinson are exec producing. Thanks. Atkinson is repped by PBJ Management. Parker is handled by CAA. McColl is handled by UTA.