11 new questions about a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

In honor of the number 11 on Napoleon Solo’s U.N.C.L.E. badge, we present these 11 new questions about a planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

1. Is George Clooney’s reported exit from the project potentially fatal for the film’s prospects? Not necessarily. Clooney has flirted with spy movie projects without ultimately committing. He was supposedly going to play Artemus Gordon in 1999’s Wild, Wild West film but backed out. One story was he really wanted to play Jim West while agreeing to play Artemus, hoping the producers would change their mind about having Will Smith play Jim West. When Clooney didn’t get his way, this version of the story goes, he bolted and the film got made anyway (though fans of the original TV show perhaps wished otherwise).

2. Was Clooney ever mentioned in any other spy projects? Around 2000, Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh (who would direct this new U.N.C.L.E. film) were interested in doing a Matt Helm movie that would mimic the four 1966-1969 Dean Martin movies (i.e. it wouldn’t have faithfully adapted Donald Hamilton’s novels, either). That movie never happened.

3. What needs to happen to make an U.N.C.L.E. movie a reality without Clooney? Soderbergh needs to remain committed. He’s viewed in Hollywood as a talented director (his resume includes the Clooney-Brad Pitt Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12 and Ocean’s 13). Also, he works quickly and has a reputation for bringing in films on (or under budget). With a shaky economy, that’s a talent movie executives value more than ever. If Soderbergh wants out, all bets are off.

4. Has progress been made? Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has told the Cinema Blend Web site that the U.N.C.L.E. script is finished. the Deadline entertainment news Web site, which first reported Clooney’s U.N.C.L.E. exit, says Warner Bros. still wants to start filming by February. That’s about all we *really* know.

5. Is the movie script based on any television episodes? Burns told Cinema Blend it is not.

6. Who might play Napoleon Solo now that Clooney is out of the picture? Well, Jon Hamm, star of Mad Men, would be seen by some fans as a good choice. The popularity of Mad Men, a show set in the 1960s about an advertising agency, is probably one reason why the Soderbergh U.N.C.L.E. project is being done as a period piece, rather than set in the present day.

7. Any problems with a Hamm casting? Depends on who you ask. Some fans complained that Clooney, at 50, was too old to play Solo. Hamm is 40, almost a decade older than Robert Vaughn was when he originated the Solo role. But it’s doubtful that would prevent him from playing Solo. A bigger problem is whether his Mad Men schedule would permit it.

8. Any talk of who would play Illya Kuryakin? In all the various reports about the movie, there has been no talk of a specific actor to take on the role first played by David McCallum. It might depend on who’s playing Solo.

9. Even if the project stays on track, when might it actually be seen in theaters? Optimistically — and this assumes filming actually starts in February — the end of 2012 would be the earliest. Some time in the first half of 2013 might be more realistic.

10. Is this really a movie worth making? A qualified yes. Soderbergh has talent and has actually watched most first-season episodes of the original series. The makers of the 1983 television film The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t view *any* first-season shows (generally viewed by fans as the best of the show’s run).

11. What are the odds it gets made? We’ll put it at 50-50 for now. That’s a lot more optimistic than we’ve been in the past. An U.N.C.L.E. movie is as close to reality as it has ever been over the past two decades. It’s safe to say the project is in a crucial phase now. It remains to be seen whether Napoleon Solo — Ian Fleming’s other spy (co-created with Norman Felton, the original show’s executive producer; the show was developed by Sam Rolfe) makes a 21st Century comeback.

9 Responses

  1. I think this film is difficult to cast if you consider the staunch support of its fans regarding the original stars who made it a hit. It was frightening to think it might end up Clooney and Pitt, so at least we’ve gotten past that potential disaster.
    Whoever ends up in this film will face the scrutiny of first generation fans, perhaps with more definite viewpoints than many other remakes have encountered. Vaughn and McCallum were rock stars, and those of us who remember that from our childhoods aren’t going to be easy to please. Just take a look at my blog if you don’t believe me 😉

  2. Good points. I agree that as long as Soderbergh sticks with it the film will probably happen. But he’s pretty fickle, so who knows how long he’ll last without his friend?

    Another spy film Clooney flirted with and then bolted from was Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early 2000s. Supposedly he was scared off by Garth Ennis’s hyper-violent take on the character.

  3. I’m glad Clooney is out of the mix. He is just too old. And I am not a fan of Jon Hamm in the role either. He is also too old, especially if in the end Warner’s wants to make any MFU project a franchise. I also think Hamm would be ill-advised to take the part anyhow. It would “type” him as an actor who plays 60s “womanizer” roles. Thus he’d be wise to steer clear.

    I’ve said this elsewhere: I would like Henry Cavill from THE TUDORS fame in the role. He had the right look and he’s a good age for the role too. I know he is cast as the new Superman, but that project is on hold last I read. So, since he already has a connection with Warners’, perhaps there is a chance he could be considered for the part of Solo in the meanwhile.

  4. I’m glad Clooney is “off” the project, if he ever was really “on” it. (Remember: Clooney himself never even once hinted in passing that he was tied to any new MFU project. It was all just hypothesized from Soderbergh’s preference.) Clooney is just too damn old to play Solo.

    Myself I would like to see Henry Cavill of THE TUDORS fame as Napoleon Solo. He’s got the right look, is in the right age ballpark to play an active field enforcement agent, and is a damn fine actor. I know he is set as the new Superman, but last I heard that project was on hold with no date currently even estimated for production. So, since he already has a tie to Warner’s, maybe he’ll get considered for the part. (I sure hope so.)

  5. Photo of Cavill during his 2005 audition for 007. He may have been director Martin Campbell’s preferred choice for Casino Royale.


  6. I am also glad Clooney is out. Hamm is too old and too beefy, although he would make a great Matt Helm. Solo needs to be young, handsome and intellectual. They should cast a relative unknown as Solo (and likewise Illya) and make the villain a known and bankable star. He will get the best lines anyway. 🙂

  7. Well, since it appears it will be nothing like the TV show, who cares who is cast? Why is this important?

  8. @Mark: If Hamm is too beefy to play Solo, he’s way too beefy to play Matt Helm (6-foot-4 and skinny, based on Donald Hamilton’s descritpion). That’s not a criticism of your Hamm as Solo comment, just an fyi about the Matt Helm source material.

    @Scrabo: Why not? We got tired of talking about Quantum of Solace. 🙂

  9. cannot wait for mad men to restart!

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