Thursday, December 7

What happens when your star is canceled but you can’t cancel the movie? | Films

DDid Armie Hammer ever long for the days when the worst thing people said was that they didn’t like anyone? “Ten Long Years of Trying to Make Armie Hammer a Reality” was the cruel but incisive title of a 5,000-word BuzzFeed article from 2017 that concluded that only a wealthy white man could not only have endured so much failure but been rewarded for it. The American actor tweeted about the piece, calling it “bitter AF” before making a celebrity exit from the social media platform: he deleted his account and then quietly reactivated it.

Those must seem like happy days now. Hammer’s downfall began a year ago when messages appeared online, allegedly sent by him to various extramarital partners, suggesting an erotic interest in cannibalism. Several women made sexual assault accusations, while an accusation of rape prompted a police investigation in Los Angeles. Hollywood tends to act fast when handling a scandal in the age of social media and #MeToo: Hammer was immediately dropped by his agents, William Morris Endeavor. He came off projects including Jennifer Lopez’s romantic comedy Shotgun Wedding, Amma Asante’s cold war thriller Billion Dollar Spy and The Offer, a 10-part series about the making of The Godfather. His scenes in Taika Waititi’s soccer comedy Next Goal Wins were reshot with Will Arnett instead.

Overshadowed... Armie Hammer behind Gal Gadot in the Death on the Nile trailer.
Overshadowed… Armie Hammer behind Gal Gadot in the Death on the Nile trailer.

However, it was too late for Disney to extirpate it from its lavish new version of Agatha Christie’s crime novel, Death on the Nile. Shot before the pandemic, the film has remained moored, if not entirely dead, in the water. . His prospects were not helped by controversy surrounding another cast member, Black Panther star Letitia Wright, who recently retweeted an anti-vaccine video that was described as “hot garbage” by fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe alumnus Don Cheadle.

While Wright’s behavior is merely irresponsible, the accusations against Hammer (which he adamantly denies) are criminal. As a prominent figure in the cast of Death on the Nile, it would have been too costly and complicated for Disney to reshoot his scenes using a replacement.

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That was Sony’s latest course of action when the 2017 release of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World coincided with allegations of abuse against Kevin Spacey. His scenes as billionaire J Paul Getty were reshot with Christopher Plummer, who later earned an Oscar nomination for the role. Meanwhile, heavy sighs of relief must have emanated from everyone associated with the action-comedy Baby Driver, which also featured Spacey but carried the scandal into publication for four months.

Watch the trailer for Death on the Nile

When reshoots aren’t an option, the best a studio can hope for is damage limitation, burying any incendiary elements low in the PR mix. Hammer appears briefly in the trailer for Death on the Nile and still appears in publicity material; but unlike co-stars like Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film), Annette Bening, and even Wright, he hasn’t received praise for his own personality. character poster. Including him in promotional interviews would also be too big a risk and hardly necessary when there are so many other famous faces in play.

Ansel Elgort in West Side Story.
Jet set… Ansel Elgort in West Side Story. Cinematography: 20th Century Fox/Niko Tavernise/Allstar

Disney had similar problems recently with another release. Like Death on the Nile, Steven Spielberg’s musical West Side Story faced a lengthy release delay due to the pandemic; was also tainted by a sexual assault allegation that surfaced during that hiatus against one of its stars, Ansel Elgort, best known as a star of Baby Driver, a movie that is starting to look like bad luck.

One irony is that Spielberg and playwright Tony Kushner gave Elgort’s character some bad boy credentials that were absent from the original Broadway show and the earlier 1961 film. In their version, the romantic lead, Tony, is a ex-convict who spent a year in prison after nearly beating a rival gang member to death. The actor, who has a face like a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is too handsome and pouty for the backstory to be convincing. It would be impossible to say whether the allegation, which Elgort has denied, describing the relationship with his accuser as “brief, legal, and completely consensual,” played a role in the film’s miserable box office performance, but put it this way: It doesn’t help.

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Still, Disney hardly put Elgort under house arrest. He was grouped with co-stars for press interviews, shifting the focus away from him and onto the film. He also made a number of television appearances on environments that promised zero chance of tricky questions.

A still from Pieces of a Woman, starring Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby and the current poster, without LaBeouf.
A still from Pieces of a Woman, starring Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby and the current poster, without LaBeouf. Photography: Netflix

The safest route for studios dealing with scandal-struck stars must be to resort to a media blackout like the one imposed on Shia LaBeouf around the premiere of drama Pieces of a Woman. After musician and actor FKA twigs filed a lawsuit against him last January alleging emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Netflix removed any mention of LaBeouf from the publicity surrounding the film, including the awards season campaign it brought. to his co-star, Vanessa Kirby, an Oscar nomination. He issued a partial denial.

Paul Bettany in Uncle Frank.
Paul Bettany in Uncle Frank. His friendship with Johnny Depp was briefly a problem. Photography: Brownie Harris/Amazon Studios

It may even be necessary to quietly sideline actors tangentially involved in another star’s scandal, at least until the air clears. Some press interviews with Paul Bettany to promote the Amazon Studios drama Uncle Frank in late 2020 were pulled at the last minute to avoid questions about dubious texts between the actor and his friend Johnny Depp, which had been made public during the attempt. Depp’s failure to sue the Sun newspaper for calling him a “wife beater”.

Depp may have been replaced by Mads Mikkelsen in the third Fantastic Beasts movie and MGM offloaded his recent film Minamata to another distributor, but the acclaim for Marvel’s WandaVision series seems to have successfully whitewashed Bettany’s reputation. He’s even been making the publicity rounds recently, accepting GQ’s Boss Leading Man award and complaining to a newspaper that it was “an unpleasant feeling” to have his private correspondence read out in court. Maybe next time he won’t join in the pranks of a friend who fantasizes about killing his ex-wife. Just a thought.

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The question of how far such controversy goes is debatable: bad publicity of any kind is too great a risk. Still, there may be good news for Disney from a business perspective with Death on the Nile. The film was greenlit while Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (which featured Depp among its cast) was on track for a worldwide gross of $352m (£258m). As in the case of that 2017 whodunit, surely it’s the combination of Branagh, Christie, a stellar ensemble, and a brilliant old-fashioned style of filmmaking, rather than a single actor, that will motivate the valuable older demographic to watch the movie. film. . One of the benefits of star-studded casts is that there is sure to be something for everyone. It’s like any half-decent cookie tin: who cares if one or two are cracked?

No one would pretend that the accusations against Armie Hammer are not serious. But in terms of public recognition, prestige and awards, it is not Kevin Spacey. Beyond journalism and social media, it may be the case that larger audiences don’t even know who he is, let alone what he’s supposed to have done. Of course, caution about returning to theaters tends to be higher among that same demographic, meaning Death on the Nile’s release won’t be a bed of roses. If the movie flounders, it might be something that can’t be blamed solely on this Hammer horror.

Death on the Nile opens on February 11.

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