The Sept. 3 announcement by Warner Bros. about the start of production of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie demonstrated how the film is going to be different than the 1964-68 television series.
Mr. Waverly is going to be a lot younger. Hugh Grant, who will play Alexander Waverly in the Guy Ritchie-directed film, turns 53 on Sept. 9, the first day of filming. Leo G. Carroll, the original Waverly, was 77 years old when the regular series began production in June 1964. Carroll had a long career, including playing a Waverly-like character in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, North by Northwest.
Carroll’s Waverly wasn’t part of the pilot. Will Kuluva played U.N.C.L.E. chief Mr. Allison and was 46 when the pilot was made in November 1963.
There’s a complicated story associated with all this. Executive producer Norman Felton was leaning to recast the U.N.C.L.E. chief part anyway. Meanwhile, NBC executives were not thrilled with David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin (who only had a few scenes in the pilot). NBC’s comments (according to some tellings, the network said to replace “the K guy”) gave the producer cover to give Kuluva his walking papers. The character actor would later appear on U.N.C.L.E. in other roles. Meanwhile, McCallum’s Kuryakin remained part of U.N.C.L.E.
Production of regular series episodes began on June 1, 1964. As late as May 12, writers doing scripts for the show thought the U.N.C.L.E. chief would be Allison. At least that’s the name used in the first draft submitted that day for The Double Affair, the eighth episode that would be broadcast.
Meanwhile, the Carroll/Waverly change for Kuluva/Allison necessitated a late re-shoot of a scene for the pilot. That took place on AUG. 20, 1964, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline. The TV version of the pilot was shown on NBC on Sept. 22.
In any event, it wasn’t always envisioned the head of U.N.C.L.E. would be well into his 70s. It remains to be seen how well Grant will be in the role. But age alone shouldn’t disqualify him.
Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are about to get a lot taller: As this blog HAS NOTED BEFORE, executive producer Felton wanted more average looking (at least in terms of height) actors for the show. With the casting of the 6-foot-1 Henry Cavill and 6-foot-5 Armie Hammer, that’s a thing of the past.
The movie will have an “origin” story while the series didn’t tell viewers that much. In the series, we found out relatively few details about Solo and Kuryakin.
Solo had a serious relationship with a woman named Clara Richards (later Valdar) that didn’t work out seven years before the series began (The Terbuf Affair, first season). Around the same time, he encountered a villain named G. Emory Partridge (George Sanders), who held a grudge all that time (The Gazebo in the Maze Affair, also first season).
Solo also served during the Korean War under the command of a Colonel Morgan (The Secret Sceptre Affair, first season).
Meanwhile, both Solo and Kuryakin had trained at U.N.C.L.E. survival school during the 1950s. Kuryakin specifically was a graduate of the Class of 1956 (The Survival School Affair, fourth season).
That implies U.N.C.L.E. has been in business for some time before the series began. Development notes for the series also indicate Solo was born in Canada and Kuryakin likes jazz records.
Based on the plot synopsis in THE WARNER BROS. PRESS RELEASE ABOUT THE MOVIE, it sounds as if audiences may see the formation of U.N.C.L.E.. It definitely will show the first mission for Solo and Kuryakin. Solo works for the CIA and Kuryakin is a KGB operative at the start of the film.
When THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER first said Grant had joined the cast, the trade publication said the actor’s part was “head of British Naval Intelligence.” If that’s still correct, the movie may show how Waverly also joined U.N.C.L.E.
The original show was created shortly after one of the hottest moments of the Cold War. Felton met with James Bond creator Ian Fleming in October 1962, the same month as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Fleming dropped out by June 1963, but he and Felton co-created the Napoleon Solo character. Sam Rolfe would do the heavy lifting from there to write the script for the pilot.