The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

Warner Bros, which wants to make a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has seen two possible leading men, George Cooney and Bradley Cooper drop out of the project, is finding it hard to pull off a remake of the 1964-68 televison series.

Welcome to the club.

What follows is a guide to *some* of the previous attempts. Maybe this possible movie really is cursed.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous orgnaization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983:: The only post-series U.N.C.L.E. project, the made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011:: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. As of now, nothing concrete has occurred. Whether that remains the case remains to be seen. Still, the odds seem long that Ian Fleming’s other spy (created with Norman Felton) will make a comeback.

UPDATE: For crying out loud, according to THIS STORY ON THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE, Johnny Depp wanted to play the Illya Kuryakin role played by David McCallum in the original show. But when Depp backed out, that complicated matters.

Michael Fassbender among actors considered for U.N.C.L.E., The Playlist says

With George Clooney out, there are lots of actors being considered (or at least mentioned) for the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to be directed by Steven Soderbergh.

The Playlist Web site has a long list IN A LONG POST YOU CAN READ BY CLICKING HERE. A sampling:

Bear in mind (Warner Bros.) would like a franchise here, so younger actors have been more appealing than Clooney almost from day one. Soderbergh also has a Napoleon Solo in mind in “Haywire” co-star Michael Fassbender. While the quickly-rising star only shot a few days on “Haywire,” both director and actor shared a good experience working together on the set.

The post mentions a number of actors who might play either Solo or Illya Kuryakin. Among them: Joel Kinnaman, Ewan McGregor, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pine, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Hamm, Russell Crowe and Robert Pattinson. Some of these are supposed to be Soderbergh’s preferences, the other being pushed by Warner Bros.

There’s more intriguing possibilities that have nothing to do with actors:

(If) Soderbergh isn’t fully satisfied with the way casting goes down, he can easily walk and prep “Liberace” instead, which will shoot sometime in the second half of 2012 with (Matt) Damon and Michael Douglas.

(snip)

While Soderergh won’t direct it, another interesting piece of the puzzle is that Soderbergh and (screenwriter Scott Z.) Burns have already mapped out an ‘U.N.C.L.E’ sequel plus have a tantalizing idea for a third film that we won’t yet reveal here.

The post says the U.N.C.L.E. movie is supposed to start filming on Feb. 14, 2012.

Fassbender has been the subject of speculation that he might succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond. Here’s the trailer for X-Men: First Class, where Fassbender played the future Magneto:

U.N.C.L.E. movie still a go, Soderbergh says

The film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is still proceeding even after potential star George Clooney exited the project, director Steven Soderbergh said in an interview with the Moviefone Web site.

An excerpt of a Soderbergh answer (the interview was presented in a Q&A format:

Scott Burns wrote a great script and everybody wants to continue. I’m sure that’s a classic example of, “Well, if Clooney’s not doing it, then it must mean blah, blah, blah. I mean, he and Steven are friends, so the script must be really bad! Has Steven done one of these things where he’s gone off on a tangent and it’s too crazy?” All that sh*t. As often the case in these situations, the truth is a little more prosaic. It’s just a movie and it wasn’t a risk worth taking.

Regarding Clooney’s possible participation, Soderbergh also said the following:

To be honest, this was all predicated on him looking at the script and determining whether, physically, it was going to be a problem for him. He was very seriously injured on ‘Syriana.’ The guy had fluid leaking out of his spinal column. And from the beginning when we started talking about it, that was part of the discussion. Having been one of the producers on that movie and him being a friend, in addition to a colleague, I don’t want to be the guy responsible for him reinjuring himself.

And we got the script to him and he said, “Look, I’ve got real concerns about this.” From scene one, it’s the kind of stuff that he really needs to be careful about. And, believe me, it’s not… We want to make another movie together and that was frustrating – for both of us. But it just became clear that it’s just too risky.

To read, the entire interview, much of wish deals with his new movie, Contagion, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, the Digital Spy Web site has a post where U.N.C.L.E. screenwriter Burns says Clooney apologized for having to pull out of the movie.

Finally, one other note. We did a little snooping on our own. via the Register.com Web site. Warner Bros. registered themanfromuncle.com as a domain name back on Dec. 9, 2004 and it expires on Dec. 9, 2012. The record was last updated on July 26, 2011. Is that significant? Hard to tell.

Clooney confirms his U.N.C.L.E. exit, Deadline says

George Clooney confirmed his exit from the planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in an interview with the Deadline Hollywood Web site. In the report, the actor says his age playeed a factor. Here’s an excerpt from a post by Pete Hammond:

I asked him about Deadline’s Mike Fleming’s exclusive report that he was dropping out of the planned Warner Bros. “Man From U.N.C.L.E. ” film directed by his frequent helmer and former partner Steven Soderbergh. Clooney indicated he would love to do it but physically just isn’t up to it. “I realize I’m 50 now and am going for neck and shoulder surgery soon and just can’t do it physically, ” he told me with a sigh.

To read the entire post, which is mostly about the 38th Annual Telluride Film Festival, just CLICK HERE. In the post, Clooney also says he’s skeptical that Steven Soderbergh, scheduled to direct the U.N.C.L.E. movie and an old friend of the actor, is really going to retire within a few years.

The Deadline also appears to partially confirm AN E ONLINE POST about why Clooney pulled out of the U.N.C.L.E. project. E Online, however, said Clooney’s decision was forced by back trouble.

Clooney’s back forced U.N.C.L.E. exit, E Online says

George Clooney was forced to exit a planned Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie because of an old back injury, E Online reported, citing a source it didn’t identify. Here’s an excerpt:

“He said he just can’t do the action and stunt scenes,” revealed an U.N.C.L.E. source who’s familiar with handsome actor’s health situation. “In fact, I think he’s planning on having another operation during the time he would have been filming.”

Clooney’s reps have not returned comment, as yet.

“But George knows this movie is all about action,” continued the U.N.C.L.E. insider, “and he knows he’s just not up to it.”

The back injury goes back to the movie Syriana, the Web site said.

A caveat: the person quoted thinks, which implies he or she isn’t 100 percent certain, that Clooney is planning to have an operation. It’s difficult to determine how much the source actually knows and there’s no description whether the source has direct knowledge of Clooney’s move. The story refers to “the death-defying stunts that have apparently been written into the U.N.C.L.E. script.” That’s an indication that E Online doesn’t actually *know* there are “death-defying stunts” just that they’ve “apparently” been written.

To read the entire post, just CLICK HERE. Clooney’s name had surfaced as playing Napoleon Solo because he’s an old friend of the planned film’s director, Steven Soderbergh.

UPDATE: As you can tell by THIS PHOTO ON PEOPLE.COM, Clooney is clearly in constant physical agony.

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.

Clooney exiting U.N.C.L.E. movie, Deadline reports

George Clooney is pulling out of director Steven Soderbergh’s planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Deadline entertaintment Web site reports.

Here’s part of a short post by Deadline’s Mike Fleming:

Still trying to get a clear sense of the reason for the exit of Clooney, who is Soderbergh’s former partner and did the Ocean’s Eleven films and Out of Sight with the director. I’m told that Warner Bros intends to stay on track for a February 2012 start for the movie.

To read the enire post, JUST CLICK HERE.

Clooney, 50, is the same age Robert Vaughn was when he reprised the role of Napoleon Solo in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., where Solo comes back from retirement to take on a revitalized Thrush, the criminal organization that was U.N.C.L.E.’s primary adversary in the original 1964-1968 series.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans, expressing themselves on the Internet absolutely hated the idea of casting Clooney, saying he was too old. There is also an element of U.N.C.L.E. fans who say no actors are worthy of the roles of Solo and Illya Kuryakin other than Vaughn and David McCallum. (We once provided our own whimsical proposal for an U.N.C.L.E. film aimed at that fan segment.)

At this point, it’s hard to determine if this is a body blow to Soderbergh (who, among, other things, has watched almost all first-season episodes of the show to prep for directing it). Soderbergh is viewed as a talented director, though he is planning to retire by around the time he turns 50. Thus, the project may indeed still be proceeding. Clooney had been the only casting even mentioned for the movie but there had never been a formal announcement by Warner Bros.

Then again, will Soderbergh still be interested in U.N.C.L.E. if his old pal Clooney is not?

So it remains to see if Ian Fleming’s other spy (co-created with Norman Felton), with the series developed by Sam Rolfe, will make a comeback or not.

Deadline says U.N.C.L.E. movie starts filming in February

Director Steven Soderbergh, who intends to retire from directing by age 50, gave an interview to the Deadline entertainment-news Web site. Deadline’s Mike Fleming, who conducted the interview writes Soderberg will start his movie based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in February 2012.

Here’s the schedule that Fleming lays out for Soderbergh’s remaining films:

Soderbergh said he’ll start work in September on Magic Mike, the film that will star Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer as male strippers in a coming-of-age story reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever. He’ll follow by directing George Clooney in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in February. After that, Liberace with Michael Douglas and Damon will likely be Soderbergh’s swan song.

There’s no real mention of U.N.C.L.E. beyond that. A blog that’s part of New York magazine’s Web site disclosed in April that Soderberg’s TV and movie watching list included almost every first-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode. Still, Warner Bros, which controls the original series, has been mum. So we’ll see what happens.

11 questions about a Soderbergh-Clooney U.N.C.L.E. movie

So now that Steven Soderbergh says he’s “obligated” to do a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the word he used in a recording at the Studio 360 Web site), that generated more questions. So, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s No. 11 U.N.C.L.E. badge number, here are 11 of them:

1. What does “obligated” mean, anyway? Has Soderbergh actually signed a contract? Has he given only a verbal commitment? The Studio 360 recording is from a Soderbergh appearance in Omaha, Nebraska. He said at the time that he’s turned down other offers, intending to make a Liberace film and an U.N.C.L.E. movie his last two film projects. That implies something more than verbal, but there’s no way to tell and Soderbergh didn’t specify.

2. Soderbergh also indicated that George Clooney would play Solo. Is that a sure thing? Clooney has been quiet on the subject and he’s busy with other projects at the moment. Clooney once was supposed to play Artemus Gordon in the 1999 movie version of The Wild, Wild West. It didn’t happen. Some caution may be called for.

3. Does Soderbergh really plan to make his U.N.C.L.E. movie a 1960s period piece? According to THIS REPORT FROM LAST YEAR, that was the plan. Once again, Soderbergh didn’t get into that level of detail.

4. Hasn’t Clooney’s name been mentioned before? Indeed, it has. Quentin Tarantino, in the late 1990s, talked about directing an U.N.C.L.E. movie and casting Clooney as Solo. His idea of Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent? The director thought, well, Quentin Tarantino, would be an excellent choice. Obviously, it never happened.

5. Is Clooney too old to play Napoleon Solo? The actor turns 50 this year, the same age Robert Vaughn was when the 1983 television film The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came out, depicting an obviously older Solo. Clooney is in good shape as he demonstrated in 2010’s The American. A little hair coloring and he could pass for 40. Of course, that’s still older than the Solo of the original televsion series.

6. Would an older Solo change the Solo-Kuryakin dynamic of the original show? Vaughn and David McCallum, the show’s Kuryakin, were less than a year apart in age. If you had a 50-passing-for-40 Solo, would that lead to casting a younger Kuryakin, to create contrast?

7. Have any potential Kuryakins showed up? If they have, Soderbergh hasn’t talked about it publicly.

8. Would a Clooney Solo help guarantee good box office for an U.N.C.L.E. movie? Hardly. According to the By the Numbers Web site, hasn’t had a big hit since the Soderbergh-directed, 2007 Ocean’s Thirteen, which grossed $117 million the U.S. and almost $312 million worldwide. The American grossed $35.6 million in the U.S. and $46.6 million worldwide.

9. So why does it appear Clooney has the inside track to play Solo? Because Soderbergh, a friend, would be the director. They’ve worked together several times and apparently want to do so one more time.

10. When would filming begin? There have been multiple accounts that the Liberace movie, with Michael Douglas playing the late entertainer, would start later this year. U.N.C.L.E. would appear to be some time after that. More is known about the Liberace project than the U.N.C.L.E. one.

11. Will this become reality? There have been numerous efforts since the early 1990s to get an U.N.C.L.E. movie going. It’s probably closer to reality than at any time in the past 20 years. But, until more of these questions get answered, it’s still not a sure thing.

Soderbergh discusses his U.N.C.L.E. plans

Last month, the Omaha World-Herald reported on an appearance by Steven Soderbergh in which the director referenced his plans to do a movie based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Now a recording of that appearance has surfaced.

On the Studio 360< Web site, there's a short story that includes an audio recording of Soderbergh’s comments in Omaha. In the recording, Soderbergh, 48, confirms he’s down to two unproduced films before he retires as a director.

“Liberace and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are the only things I’m obligated to do,” Soderbergh said starting about 40 minutes into the session. “To do Liberace with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas and to do Man From U.N.C.L.E. with George (Clooney)…that’s a great way to have a sort of farewell tour. George and I found ourselves at the right time…For years we’ve both been trying to find something to do.”

In response to a questioner, Soderberg says Clooney would play Napoleon Solo. The Liberace film is a movie biography with Douglas the entertainer and Damon as his lover.

No other details were disclosed and all of Soderbergh’s comments come at the end of the recording. But it is an on-the-record confirmation of what has been reported so far in the entertainment press. Meanwhile, Clooney, who turns 50 on May 6, is directing and starring in a movie called The Ides of March, which is being filmed in Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press.