Universal Pictures has slapped comic Mike Myers with a breach of contract suit after he pulled the plug on “Dieter,” a feature based on a character the actor originally created for “Saturday Night Live.”
Universal had slated the comedy about a German pop existentialist who hosted a fictional talk show known as “Sprockets” as its big summer movie for 2001.
This is a high-stakes litigation both for Universal, which views the project — also referred to as “Sprockets” — as a tentpole film, and Myers, who received his first $20 million payday with the deal.
And while it is not so unusual for an actor to waffle on a project, it is rare for a studio — whose relations with talent and their agents are delicate and tricky — to turn around and sue one for walking off.
“We have a deal, we are living up to our end of the deal and expect Mr. Myers to live up to his end. We are filing this lawsuit to enforce our rights,” a studio rep said.
Myers denies quitting
In a statement, Myers expressed shock at learning that Universal had commenced a lawsuit against him “over his suggestion to delay filming ‘Sprockets.'”
Myers maintains that he did not walk off the project, but that the script did not meet with his approval and that it would be premature to film. The movie was skedded to start shooting in August.
“I cannot, in good conscience accept $20 million and cheat moviegoers who pay their hard-earned money for my work by making a movie with an unacceptable script,” Myers said. Myers also vowed to sue Universal for fraud because of its attempt to bully him into doing a movie at the cost of his artistic integrity.
In a strongly worded complaint, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Universal charged that Myers had breached an oral and written contract. The studio seeks to recover the approximately $5 million it has already spent on the project as well as lost profits.
In a highly unusual request for relief, Universal also has asked that Myers be enjoined from working on any other movie, film or television production for the period he had committed to work on the movie. Universal is represented by its longtime counsel Ron Olson of Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Myers had been working on the script for about a year, but last Tuesday, the actor called a meeting with Imagine topper Brian Grazer, who is producing, and U execs Stacey Snider and Ron Meyer, and told them he wasn’t doing the movie because he didn’t like the script, and that it couldn’t be fixed.
Universal already had hired a first-time director Myers wanted –production designer Bo Welch, who did “Beetlejuice” and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” — and had already made pay-or-play deals with three actors: Jack Black, Will Ferrell and David Hasselhoff.
Universal’s position was that Myers was the writer, and he had signed off on the script. But in an exchange of letters, Myers’ attorneys apparently took the position that he had script approval over his own script and had not approved it.
According to the complaint, Universal began negotiations with Myers in 1998 for a film project based on “Dieter.” Those negotiations concluded in 1998 with a deal that provided that Myers would get $10 million and 10% of gross for writing and acting in the film.
But following the success of the Austin Powers sequel, “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” the deal was renegotiated in March to give Myers 12 1/2% of the gross and guaranteed compensation in excess of $20 million.
Universal alleges that Myers thereafter “set about spending Universal’s money to get the movie staffed with people acceptable to him.” At Myers’ behest, Universal engaged a director, line producer, actors, director of photography, production designer and numerous other people to get the film ready for production.
Within a short time after the studio had spent an additional $1 million on a co-star, Myers called the meeting at Universal’s offices and dropped his bombshell.