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.