In a seven-figure deal, Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment have rehired Steve Zaillian, this time to rewrite “American Gangster.”
Studio has also committed to a late July start date for the film to be directed by Ridley Scott and star Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Brian Grazer is producing.
Rewrite job and start date end speculation over whether U would step up to a reconfigured version of a film it killed last year.
Former U chair Stacey Snider had put the brakes on a version of the film that had Antoine Fuqua directing Washington and Benicio Del Toro as she feared the budget could top $100 million. It was an expensive move, since the actors had pay-or-play deals that had to be settled.
Zaillian had written the original script about a Harlem drug kingpin (Washington) who smuggled heroin in the body bags of U.S. soldiers slain in Vietnam.
After the film halted, U conscripted Terry George to pen a downsized version of the story, but Grazer and Imagine exec Jim Whitaker couldn’t let go of Zaillian’s vision of the crime story.
“When the film didn’t go, you become detached and you get to examine how much weight the story had, and whether it has a natural life inside your psyche,” Grazer said. “This particular story had a natural weight and made such an impression on my psyche that I couldn’t let go of the images that would be created from that script.”
The tide turned when Scott became interested in Zaillian’s version and his “Gladiator” star Crowe followed. Grazer also had ties to Crowe after producing “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man,” and he and Scott persuaded Crowe to play the detective and juggle dates. Crowe is also starring this year with Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s untitled period epic.
Washington, who opens today in the Universal/Imagine drama “The Inside Man,” never lost interest in playing Lucas, a charismatic, illiterate man who found his niche in drug smuggling. Grazer predicted that even with the star power of Scott and Crowe, the film will cost no more than the version halted last year. Pic will shoot mostly in New York, with a brief stopover in Thailand.