End of Week Production Notes 12/10/21: Nolan’s Oppenheimer Casts Up, Smollett Found Guilty, and More News

Florence Pugh
Florence Pugh in Black Widow (Disney/Marvel)

It’s the end of what seems like another one of the longest weeks ever, but thankfully, Christmas is just two weeks away.

Lina Wertmuller
Lina Wertmüller (Photo: Augusto Aulenta)

But first, we start off today’s wrap-up with the sad news that Italian filmmaker and screenwriter, Lina Wertmüller, the first woman to be nominated for best director in 1977, has died at the age of 93, as first reported by Italian paper, la Repubblica. Ms. Wertmüller first made waves in the ’70s with her classic films, Seven Beauties and Swept Away (which was later remade by Guy Ritchie for then wife Madonna — keep this last bit of info in mind). It was the first of those, Seven Beauties, for which Wertmüller received two Oscar nominations, for her direction and the film’s script. Just last year, Ms. Wertmüller was presented with an Honorary Oscar by the Academy, and she leaves behind her quite an amazing legacy where women like Kathryn Bigelow and Chloé Zhao are regularly being nominated as directors AND winning the Oscar over their male counterparts. She also has paved the way for actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Hall to go behind the camera and direct fantastic recent films like The Lost Daughter and Passing, respectively, the former which won four Gotham Awards last month and will screen in select cities next week.

Florence Pugh
Florence Pugh in Black Widow (Disney/Marvel)

Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer about one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was always going to be a hot ticket, especially after Nolan sold it to Universal Pictures in a competitive situation. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan’s cast is shaping up around previously-announced stars Cillian MurphyEmily BluntMatt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. Just cast in the film are Florence Pugh (Black Widow), Oscar winner Rami Malek (No Time to Die), and actor/filmmaker Ben Safdie, who can be seen in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza, which is still playing in New York and L.A. with stellar reviews and awards attention.

According to THR‘s story, Pugh will play Jean Tatlock, “a member of the Communist Party of the United States who has an off-and-on affair with Oppenheimer and was the cause of major security concerns for government officials.” Safdie will play Edward Teller, “the Hungarian physicist who is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb and a member of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. research initiative that developed the first atomic bomb.” While Malek will play…  wait for it… a scientist. Nolan wrote the script and is directing the film that Universal is calling, an “epic thriller that thrusts audiences into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.”

There hasn’t been a ton of other film-related news this week, although it was reported (by Deadline, who else?) that Seth Rogen and Elle Fanning are in talks to join New RegencyBold Films, and Permut Productions‘ long-in-development Chippendales movie, which stars Dev Patel and will be directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya). Rogen just worked with Gillespie on the Pam and Tommy series for Hulu, which just wrapped production and will debut on the streamer in February. David Permut, who has been developing the project for two decades, will produce the film with financiers New Regency and Bold Film, while David Litvak, Gary Michael Walters, Michel Litvak, and Bold Films’ Svetlana Metkina are also producing. Lauren Blum and Rebecca Angelo are rewriting the script from previous drafts, written by Craig Williams and Isaac Adamson.

Patel will play Steve Banerjee, “who emigrated from India to Playa del Rey to chase the dream of fame and fortune. Bored with pumping gas in the Mobil station he owned, he found an outlet for his entrepreneurial dreams when he acquired the struggling L.A. rock club Destiny II. He transformed it with a new name and theme nights that included female mud wrestling and a “male exotic dance night for ladies only,” with the latter catching on. Banerjee and his partners were presiding over a flesh empire that earned $8 million annually from club receipts and the sales of millions of calendars of its main attractions, with a large amount also coming from touring companies. Early co-creators included Paul Snider, whose Playboy bunny girlfriend Dorothy Stratten helped come up with the signature cuffs and collars uniforms. Snider would later murder Stratten and kill himself. Lawsuits and disputes involving Banerjee followed, leading to a violence-filled descent.” It’s rumored that Rogen might play Chippendales choreographer Nick De Noia and Fanning would play Stratten.

In more biopic news, actor Steve Zahn has joined the Spectrum limited series George & Tammy, playing songwriter and Nashville producer George Richey, the husband and manager of country star, Tammy Wynette. Production got underway in North Carolina this week on the six-episode series directed by John Hillcoat (The Road). Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is playing Wynette, reuniting with Hillcoat after starring in his 2012 film, Lawless, while Michael Shannon will play George Jones, presumably the actual George in the title. The series will premiere exclusively on Spectrum before getting a second window on Paramount+ and the Paramount Network.


Jussie Smollet
Jussie Smollett on Empire (Fox)

Unfortunately, this was not a particularly good week for actor Jussie Smollett, as the former Empire star faced his day (actually a week) in court, and it didn’t go well for him. You might remember that in January 2019, Smollett was attacked in Chicago in what he claimed was a racist and homophobic attack, but it soon came out that Smollett had staged the so-called assault himself. After the jury deliberated for nine hours, Smollett was found guilty of five of the six felony charges, including lying to the police. The only charge on which Smollett was found not guilty was making a false police report, but he can be forced to pay a $25,000 and be sentenced up to three years in jail.

Smollett’s lawyers have already appealed with defense lawyer Nenye Uche stating, “The verdict is inconsistent. You can’t say Jussie is lying and say Jussie is not lying for the same exact incidents. We feel 100% confident that this case will be won on appeal. Unfortunately, that’s not a route we wanted, but sometimes that’s the route you have to take to win.”


SundanceLogoOn Thursday, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival announced a whole slew of features for its annual Utah festival, taking place next month. While we won’t share the entire list, we can do a quick parse through the titles, and see that it’s another interesting list of debut films and returning filmmakers.

Some of the films to look out for are Carey Williams‘ Emergency, which will premiere on Day One and is about a group of partying Black and Latino college students who have to decide whether to call the cops with an unusual emergency. Girls creator Lena Dunham comes to Sundance with her first feature film in more than ten years, Sharp Stick, about a 26-year-old looking for attention in Hollywood. The Art of Self Defense filmmaker Riley Stearns brings his new movie, Dual, starring Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul, to the festival with its look at a woman who commissions a clone of herself when she’s diagnosed with a terminal disease. (Something interesting is that both Dunham and Stearns’ previous films debuted at the March SXSW Film Festival.) Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s feature debut, Call Jane, starring Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver is also likely to get some attention, as well as Mimi Cave‘s FRESH, which explores the horrors of dating and is playing in the fest’s popular Midnight track. One of the more high-profile docs is likely to be W. Kamau Bell’s four-hour doc, We Need to Talk about Cosby, which covers the rise and fall of Bill Cosby.

Some of the highlights of this past year’s festival, which was held virtually, included Rebecca Hall’s Passing (as mentioned above), Questlove‘s award-winning doc Summer of Soul, and the upcoming indie drama, Jockey, as well as many more.

You can see the full line-up that has been announced so far on the Sundance site.

Speaking of SXSW, Everything Everywhere All At Once, the new sci-fi adventure from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert aka The Daniels will premiere as the Opening Night premiere of that annual Austin, Texas fest. It’s the innovative duo’s first film since Swiss Army Man, which debuted at Sundance in 2016, and it will be released by that film’s distributor A24b. The movie stars Michelle Yeoh as an exhausted Chinese-American woman, who can’t seem to finish her taxes, and it also stars Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., and Jamie Lee Curtis.


Cowboy Bebop
Mustafa Shakir and John Cho in Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)

After airing just a single season, Netflix has cancelled its Cowboy Bebop series, starring John Cho, which is based on the popular anime. The first season of the series debuted on the streamer on Nov. 19, roughly three weeks ago, but Netflix must have decided that it was too expensive a prospect to make a second season, especially after the first season was delayed both by COVID and an on-set injury suffered by Cho, which took out production for seven to nine months.

The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki is not resting on his laurels after the end of that storied CBS sitcom, as he is teaming with Margaret Easley and Laura Putney, co-exec. producers of Manifest, to develop an “Untitled Family Medicine” drama at ABC, based on J.D. Kleinke‘s novel Catching Babies, at ABC. The book is being adapted by Easley and Putney with its look at “a team of gifted medical professionals whose careers are dedicated to the beginnings of life: maternal/fetal and family medicine— an area unique in the medical world for the intensity of emotion, political fury, and cultural angst it elicits.” Galecki is exec. producer via his Alcide Bava Productions, along with Reid Scott, Elspeth Keller, and Michael Baum. Cory Wood of Alcide Bava Productions will co-executive produce for studio, Warner Bros. Television.

Some exec promotions and shifts over in the UK, as BBC Studios has announced the promotion of General Counsel Martyn Freeman to be its new Chief Operating Officer under new CEO Tom Fussell. After a decade as GC, Freeman’s new role will extend his role to oversee the company’s technology, transformation and property, along with negotiating major acquisitions and partnerships and looking into regulation and compliance.

Sky Studios has promoted producer Nils Hartmann (DevilsGomorrahThe Young Pope) to oversee Germany and Italy, replacing Marcus Ammon in the former territory and reporting to Sky Studios Chief Content Officer Jane Millichip, starting immediately. Hartmann has been with Sky Italia for nearly twenty years and will help ramp up the pay-TV giant’s original series coming from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, including Das Boot and Babylon Berlin.


We’re starting to get some new trailers again, and the first one up is the first trailer for the next movie from Guy Ritchie (see? we told you he’d come up again) with the odd title of Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre. Its Ritchie’s second movie in a row with Jason Statham, who also starred in Ritchie’s revenge thriller, Wrath of Man, earlier this year. Also, Ritchie and Statham literally began their career at the same time when Ritchie cast Statham in his debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  STXfilms (who we’ve written about quite a bit this week, including Jeff Sneider in yesterday’s Above the Line Newsflashhas attached the first trailer to National Champions, which was released in theaters on Thursday night for the movie that is scheduled for release in 2022 with no specific date set. Besides Statham, it also reunites Ritchie with Hugh Grant, who starred in the filmmaker’s 2020 crime-comedy, The Gentlemen.

On a different track, Paramount Pictures released the first trailer for its live-action/CG hybrid family film, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which will hit theaters on April 8, 2022. It looks like another fun romp for families with kids, and it’s quite astounding that it’s being released just over two years since the first Sonic the Hedgehog opened with $58 million domestically in mid-February 2020 and managed to gross almost $150 in North America before COVID shut movie theaters down for many months. With that in mind, this entire sequel was made during a pandemic, and it still looks on par with the original movie.

That’s it for this week. Check back on Monday for Below the Line‘s “Over the Weekend” news wrap-up.