On June 22, Ryan Wiik walked into a conference room at an Oslo law firm and faced down a large group of his former friends. They were carpenters, plumbers and mechanics, mostly from his seaside hometown of Drobak.
They had invested millions of kroner — in some cases, their life savings — in his dream to build a billion-dollar movie company. Wiik planned to produce and star in a Western based on the “Morgan Kane” series of novels, which were popular in Scandinavia. But a decade had gone by, and no film had materialized. A few days earlier, two investors had reported him to the Norwegian police.
As he took his seat in the conference room, a young man walked up. “Ryan Wiik?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Wiik. The man dropped a fraud lawsuit in his lap. “In your face,” someone said, in English, as the crowd snickered.
Wiik had come to the annual meeting to try to set the record straight. He had put years of sweat into WR Entertainment, pitching billionaires and investment bankers on the “Morgan Kane” project, only, in his view, to have the company stolen out from under him.
But the investors didn’t see it that way. They saw him as a no-talent, name-dropping Hollywood playboy with a taste for classic Ferraris and Porsches. They accused him of frittering away their money on facials, haircuts and location scouting trips, all in the pursuit of a ridiculous fantasy.
With a $27 million budget, “Morgan Kane” was supposed to be the most expensive film in Norway’s history. Instead, it was a national joke. The stock had collapsed, and every twist in the unfolding disaster was carefully chronicled in the Norwegian press.
|Ryan Wiik, above, says he defrauded no one. “The biggest mistake I’ve made here,” he maintains, “is I’ve trusted too much.”
Michael Lewis for Variety
Whenever Wiik opened his mouth in the meeting, he was met by a hail of catcalls and boos. The shareholders approved the annual report — which slammed Wiik’s leadership and acting abilities — on a vote of 98.1% to 1.9%. On the same vote, they rejected Wiik’s request for an independent audit.
“They are completely brainwashed,” Wiik said to himself as he walked out to get some air.
“I empowered a lot of voices I shouldn’t have,” he tells Variety, in one of several interviews to relate his side of the story. “The biggest mistake I’ve made here is I’ve trusted too much.”
Wiik lives in an airy apartment high in the Hollywood Hills, which affords a sweeping view of the city below. His office is teeming with screenplays, screenwriting manuals, movie posters and the “Morgan Kane” books.
With matinee idol looks, he began seeking out acting roles soon after arriving in Hollywood in his early 20s. But he quickly decided that to get noticed, he should produce his own material, much as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had done.
His first project was a screenplay about a father and son who are forced to repair their strained relationship. But he soon learned that Hollywood was less interested in personal stories than in bankable IP.
He was on a vacation at his grandfather’s house in Marbella, Spain, in 2007, when he first heard of Morgan Kane. Geir Killingland, the owner of the Miss Norway pageant, was floating in the pool and suggested he look into the series.
“You are Morgan Kane,” he said.
Kjell Hallbing, a Norwegian bank teller, wrote 83 Kane novels from 1966 to 1985, which sold some 20 million copies. Wiik sought out the books and devoured them, then spent two years persuading Hallbing’s son to sell him the rights.
He assembled a team of Norwegian friends and some industry veterans — including a former president of Warner Home Video — and began to take high-level meetings.
He attended the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, where he spent $45,000 to rent a yacht as a floating office and had a meeting with Harvey Weinstein.
Later that summer, he rented a five-bedroom house from Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns. He pitched Burns on his vision for the production company, saying it could be the next Summit Entertainment or the next Lionsgate. “That’s ambitious,” Burns answered, before warning him about the rent: “If you’re one day late, I’ll try and evict you.”
Later, Burns expressed an interest in the project, promising to put $20 million into a slate that would include “Morgan Kane” if Wiik could find an additional $70 million. Wiik often cited that promise as he sought more money from his early investors. Some allege he exaggerated his connection to Burns and to other Hollywood players. Burns declined to be interviewed for this story.
“He kept using different Hollywood names every few months,” says Jan-Henry Loken, an auto mechanic from Drobak who invested $200,000 in the company. “First it was Spielberg, then Wolfgang Petersen, then Javier Bardem, Benicio del Toro, Penelope Cruz… There were periods [when] we didn’t believe in him but we had no choice, as he kept threatening bankruptcy if we didn’t pay more money.”
As a child in Norway, Wiik devoured American movies and longed to travel abroad. He felt confined, alone and out of place. His grandfather was a prosperous clothier. But his parents were divorced, and he lived in modest circumstances with his mother. He strained against janteloven, a deeply ingrained cultural ethic that discourages boasting and prizes the society above the individual.
“No one’s supposed to believe they’re better than anyone else,” Wiik explains. Later, while studying acting in Australia, he picked up another term for it: “crabs in the bucket syndrome” — the crabs will tear down any crab that tries to escape.
Morgan Kane represented a rebellion against this philosophy. He was an American gunslinger who lived outside the bounds of society. He was dangerous and sexually magnetic. For Norwegianmen, especially of a certain age, it is a cherished myth.
“It’s an escape,” Wiik says.
Wiik himself had done everything he could to escape Norway. At 15, he spent a year studying abroad in Oklahoma, and he left for good at 19.
|“He didn’t do any acting. I only saw him riding a horse and walking around the room in his underpants with a gunbelt on.”|
|Patrick Strom, investor|
But he remained rooted in Norway. His Norwegian friends and family provided the investment to get WR Entertainment off the ground. After Cannes, the Norwegian newspapers began to cover the Kane story.
“Morgan Kane Rides Into Hollywood” declared Aftenposten, the country’s largest and most reputable newspaper, after the Cannes announcement. “Hamar’s Hero in Hollywood,” declared a paper in the town where Wiik spent his early childhood.
But when a year went by with no real progress on the financing, the tone of the coverage shifted.
“No one puts money in a Kane movie,” wrote Dagens Naeringsliv, the country’s leading business publication. “Hanging by a thread,” wrote Hamar Arbeiderblad.
With every setback, Wiik’s ambitions seemed to grow. He started out trying to make a single movie. That swelled to a planned franchise and then to a $90 million film fund. As he scouted locations for Kane, he hit upon the idea of buying a derelict studio in Baja, Mexico.
As time went on, some investors became disenchanted. In 2014, Wiik moved out of Burns’ house and rented a place in Agoura Hills where he could practice horseback riding.
“He didn’t do any acting,” says Patrick Strom, an investor who lived with Wiik at the house. “I only saw him riding a horse and walking around the living room in his underpants with a gunbelt on.”
Strom never had much confidence in Wiik as an actor, and had come to believe his friend was turning delusional. Strom says that Wiik once told him: “We’re not going to hang too much together after I get famous. I’m gonna hang more with Leo and guys like that.”
“I was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’” Strom says.
At one point, Wiik sketched out a detailed plan in which he anticipated that his role in the Kane franchise would earn him tens of millions of dollars in backend participation, acting fees, endorsements and merchandising revenue.
Some investors began to think that Wiik was living a Hollywood lifestyle at their expense — that he was getting too far above his station.
“He acts like a Norwegian prince, but he is from a modest background,” says Jonny Martinsen, a bathroom tile installer who says he was duped into investing hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We have of course been naive,” Martinsen says, “but we at least thought he had good intentions.”
Wiik’s ouster from WR Entertainment began in late 2015, when he met Tasmin Lucia-Khan, a former BBC news presenter, at SkyBar in West Hollywood. They struck up a conversation, and soon he was pouring out all his fears and anxieties. At the time, he was struggling to raise money and had decided to take the company public in Oslo.
“I desperately needed help,” he says. “I felt protected by her, and I believed her, and I fell for her.”
Initially, he planned to put Lucia-Khan on the board to satisfy a Norwegian securities rule that requires that 40% of directors be women. She might also handle PR. But he says he was lonely and worn out after years of fundraising, and looking for someone to take charge. Soon she was named CEO. Later, he would claim that she had seduced him.
“Her having an intimate relationship with me obviously gave her some leverage over me,” he says.
After the IPO, Lucia-Khan began to meet with the Norwegian stockholders. Wiik believes they conspired behind his back to force him out of the lead role in Morgan Kane.
Wiik had been preparing for the role for years, working with a horse trainer and taking acting classes. Lucia-Khan urged the trainer to rough him up to make him seem more masculine.
“There was this constant gay-bashing going on,” says the trainer, Ardeshir Radpour.
|“I have this anger toward my home country. I do feel a sense of betrayal.” – Ryan Wiik
Michael Lewis for Variety
Wiik says he worked tenaciously to make sure he was the best person for the role, and resents the insinuations about his sexuality. “Whether gay, straight or bi has nothing to do with stealing this company,” he says. “There’s enough labels.”
In the summer of 2016, Lucia-Khan proposed that he take a screen test, and Wiik agreed. He believes that he was set up to fail. He says he was given new script pages only days before the test. In the scene, Kane is playing cards in a saloon and mumbling drunkenly about Plato and Socrates.
“It clearly did not work,” says Mike Marvin, a producer friend of Wiik’s. “He’s a green actor.”
Wiik was on vacation in Indonesia when he was informed that he would not get the part. Already under intense pressure, he now felt betrayed and isolated. He felt a decade of effort going to waste and his future in doubt. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, he contemplated suicide.
Instead, he says he decided to fight. Feeling outnumbered within the company, he resigned. In March, he filed suit against Lucia-Khan, accusing her of breaching his acting contract and deceiving him in order to throw him out of the company. His goal is to wrest back control of Morgan Kane.
In June, the company filed its own lawsuit, accusing Wiik of defrauding investors. The suit also alleged that Wiik billed the company for makeup, haircuts, men’s and women’s clothing, restaurants, nightclubs and gay bars.
Wiik says his expenses were appropriate, and takes issue with the homophobic nature of the attacks.
In a statement to Variety, Lucia-Khan says she is “astonished by the scope of his misconduct.” “He is still claiming he is somehow a victim, when he spent years living off other people’s money,” she says.
She adds that it was clear that Wiik could not play Kane. “The presence was missing,” she says. “Men are supposed to fear him. That didn’t happen. Women are supposed to be falling over him, and that didn’t happen either.”
Investors say that Wiik is now a pariah in Norway. “All people that look at this … here in Norway look at him as a con man,” Loken says. “He can no longer take millions of dollars from the Norwegian people and pretend he is a big star from Hollywood.”
Wiik says he was always transparent with his investors, and badly misjudged Lucia-Khan. Facing withering attacks from former friends, he felt like the crab being dragged back into the bucket.
“His intent was never to defraud anybody,” says Marvin, his producer friend.“His intent was to get his passion project made, and along the way he made some very bad decisions.”
Ryan Wiik once felt so isolated in Norway that he had to escape into a cowboy fantasy. Now he was being shunned and cast out from the community.
“I have this anger toward my home country. I do feel a sense of betrayal,” he acknowledges at the end of an interview at the Chateau Marmont. “Did I con them? It’s crazy. Where is the con?”