Steven Soderbergh Drops ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’

You may have followed the breadcrumb trail of casting reports for Steven Soderbergh‘s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. up to this point, but here’s the thing: it is no longer Steven Soderbergh’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Warner Bros. has worked for years to make a new film version of the old cold war TV spy series, and the director who created three fun films based on a Rat Pack heist movie seemed like the go-to guy to make it happen. But George Clooney had to drop out of the lead role for physical reasons and in his absence no other casting solution could be agreed upon.

So, after months of back and forth, with Warner Bros. wanting the movie to be cheaper than Soderbergh thought appropriate, and no locked leading men, Steven Soderbergh has moved on.

The Playlist has an impressive rundown of the entire process, but here’s the list of important details.

  • Soderbergh suggests Michael Fassbender and Joel Kinnaman as leads after Clooney leaves. WB doesn’t want them for U.N.C.L.E., but does work deals with them for other films, Londongrad and Arthur & Lancelot. Cue Soderbergh irritation.
  • Johnny Depp gets interested in U.N.C.L.E. when Lone Ranger is temporarily benched, but can never commit due to the weird process of getting the green light for Ranger. WB waits for him, stalling this project.
  • Young leading men are considered, but no consensus is reached.
  • Bradley Cooper and Joel Edgerton enter the mix, perhaps more through the machinations of agents than anything else. The roles might never have really been offered to them. Channing Tatum wants to play one of the leads after doing Magic Mike with Soderbergh, but by this point it is pretty much too late.
  • Based on screenwriter Scott Z. Burns‘ draft, Warner Bros. offers a budget proposal in the low $60m range. Soderbergh thinks that isn’t enough to properly make a film meant to launch a three-film period-piece spy franchise with locations around the world. But WB wants it on the cheap, even if ‘on the cheap’ here happens to be a for few million more than was spent on the director’s location-hopping Contagion. And so Soderbergh moves on.

The director’s timeline over the next year looks like this: Haywire is released in January. There’s room to shoot a movie before Behind the Candelabra, his film about Liberace (starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon) will shoot in summer 2012, just as Magic Mike is released. That’s where U.N.C.L.E. was going to go. After that, it’s ‘adios, directors chair!’ for Soderbergh, at least until he gets the itch once more.

(WB picked up Magic Mike not long ago, and I wonder if buying that cheap film was part of a strategy to keep Soderbergh on U.N.C.L.E. when he was obviously waffling. And if that was the case, what will the studio do with the film now? It has such obvious counter-programming summer beefcake appeal that I don’t see WB dumping it.)

The good news is there’s now a big empty spot on his schedule where The Man From U.N.C.L.E. used to rent space. Will Soderbergh come up with another film to shoot there?

And what of U.N.C.L.E.? WB has the Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns script to work with, but as the Playlist says, that is probably so tuned to Soderbergh’s specific style that much would have to be rewritten for another creative team. The movie will probably happen eventually, and maybe it will even mange to shoot next year. But for now nothing is set.

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