Will Russell Crowe Play for Universal?

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Variety is reporting that Universal Pictures spent the weekend trying to convince Russell Crowe, its American Gangster topliner, to replace Brad Pitt as the star of State of Play.

The trade said the result of that courtship will be known early this week and will determine how ugly things get between the studio and Pitt after he exited the picture over disagreements about the shooting script.

Pitt’s exit on Thanksgiving eve not only put the picture in a state of flux, it also left a studio and star with differing opinions on which one caused the exit. And it left Hollywood questioning how valid pay-or-play deals are in a strike climate where studios are venturing into production starts on scripts that can’t get a rewrite if they need one.

Universal claimed Pitt left a pay-or-play commitment and left open the option of suing him; Pitt’s camp claimed he was essentially forced out of a movie he’s been eager to topline for almost two years just because the studio wouldn’t wait for a strike resolution and a rewrite to bring the script back to a place that made him comfortable.

Weeks ago, State of Play headed toward its Nov. 15 start date with a sparkling cast. Now, if Crowe doesn’t fit in the pic before playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Ridley Scott-directed Universal drama Nottingham, which begins shooting in March, State of Play will be in jeopardy.

The role Pitt exited and Crowe is considering is a politician-turned-journalist who spearheads his newspaper’s investigation into a killing that leads to a fast-rising pol (Edward Norton). The journalist faces two conflicts: He once ran campaigns for the pol and was his confidant, and the journo develops a romance with the pol’s estranged wife (Robin Wright Penn).

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