Donna Langley

Universal exec makes daring, diverse choices

Production execs hate singling out their favorite projects, but Donna Langley will offer a few when pressed: “United 93,” “Children of Men” and “Knocked Up.”

The choices are instructive for their daring and diversity.

“United 93,” the first movie Universal’s production president greenlit for the studio, was a wrenching experience. “Children of Men,” a futuristic fable she inherited, paved the way for the studio’s pact with director Alfonso Cuaron and Mexican compadres Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. As for “Knocked Up,” Langley can’t say enough about helmer Judd Apatow and his sweet, yet boundary-pushing, comedy. “I take zero credit for what Judd is doing,” Langley says. “I just get out of his way.”

The studio has projects in the works with all three — always a good sign.

Langley, who had been exec VP of production under Mary Parent and Scott Stuber’s regime, moved up to the president’s spot in April 2005, with Jon Gordon joining her in August that year as co-prexy. Last July, she became sole title holder.

The U.K. native has presided over a wide-ranging slate since her ascendancy, ranging from kudos contenders to breezy comedies like “You, Me and Dupree” and franchise threequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

This year, the studio will bow “The Kingdom,” Peter Berg’s political thriller originally skedded for an earlier release; “American Gangster,” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” helmer Mike Nichols’ political saga starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Langley’s biggest challenge? “Finding fresh and unique ways to tell universal stories,” while maintaining a slate of 12 to 20 films a year, “and being mindful of the competitive landscape and what’s going on in the zeitgeist.”

The studio’s growing focus on the global market means added attention to whether projects can travel well.

“It’s a challenging time to have this job,” Langley says.

Vocation: “Foster films with a global focus.”

Recent breakthrough: Greenlit “Knocked Up” — “I’m so proud of it.”

Role model: “My parents,” Langley says. “They encouraged me to be independent.”

Career mantra: “Keep your head down and do the work. That’s it. There’s no substitute for that.”

What’s next: “I’m proud to continue the great legacy my predecessors left us.”

More Biz

  • Chuck D of Public EnemyGods of

    Public Enemy’s Chuck D Slams Grammys Over Deborah Dugan Ouster

    Chuck D, frontman of Public Enemy — who are receiving the Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Grammys next week — posted a long statement on Instagram criticizing the Recording Academy over its sudden ousting of new president/CEO Deborah Dugan yesterday. Dugan, who had been in the job only five months, was placed on administrative leave after [...]

  • Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons

    Spotify in Talks to Acquire Bill Simmons' The Ringer: Report

    Spotify is in early talks to acquire The Ringer, the digital content and podcast network launched by ESPN alum Bill Simmons in 2016, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. A representative for Spotify declined to comment on the report. Reps for Ringer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spotify’s [...]

  • Deborah Dugan arrives for the 20th

    Deborah Dugan's Recording Academy Ouster Follows Multiple Tussles With Board

    “Change is afoot,” Deborah Dugan said more than once during interviews with Variety in the weeks before her shocking removal from her post as president/CEO of the Recording Academy after just five months on the job. During those conversations, Dugan spoke of changes she planned to make in the Academy’s staffing organization, its Board of [...]

  • Weinstein Trial

    Does Harvey Weinstein's Jury Selection Strategy Make Any Sense?

    Harvey Weinstein’s defense team appeared to have a strategy for jury selection: keep white women off the panel. They didn’t put it that way, because picking jurors based on race or gender is illegal. But on Thursday and again on Friday, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi accused the defense of using its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude [...]

  • Bob Iger

    Bob Iger's Disney Compensation Drops to $47.5 Million in 2019

    Disney chief Bob Iger saw his compensation for 2019 drop to $47.5 million, a 28% decline from his 2018 pay package. Disney’s leader earned $3 million in salary and a $21.8 million bonus, plus another $10 million in stock awards and $9.6 million in stock options, Disney disclosed in the company’s annual proxy filing with [...]

  • Peter Chernin'Spies in Disguise' film premiere,

    Disney and Chernin Entertainment Parting Ways (EXCLUSIVE)

    Disney and Peter Chernin are ending Chernin Entertainment’s long-standing film production deal with 20th Century Fox (recently rebranded to 20th Century Studios), Variety has learned. The split was a mutual and amicable one, driven by the simple fact that Disney rarely brings on third-party partners to finance its feature films. “I have nothing but praise for [...]

  • NAB Show Partners With Variety for

    NAB Show Partners With Variety for Executive Leadership Summit

    The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show has announced that it will be partnering with Variety to produce the third annual Executive Leadership Summit, taking place Sunday, April 19 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. NAB Show is the world’s largest convention encompassing media, entertainment and technology, where global visionaries convene to bring content to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content