Execs eye Sony's Spacey gamble as brave possible precedent

Los Angeles (AFP) –


With Hollywood roiled by mounting sexual misconduct allegations, studios are monitoring Kevin Spacey's removal from his latest movie as a bold but risky precedent for dealing with scandal-hit talent.

Sony and filmmaker Ridley Scott have been praised for cutting the disgraced 58-year-old from "All the Money in the World" but, with the release just six weeks away, the move is expected to be costly.

"Sony put people before profits in their decision to cut Spacey from a movie only weeks away from its release," Jeetendr Sehdev, a Hollywood branding expert and bestselling author, told AFP.

"The studio has set a new standard in Hollywood, and that's inspiring."

Spacey is being replaced by Christopher Plummer for the part as US millionaire J. Paul Getty in the story about the 1973 kidnapping of his teenage grandson John Paul Getty III.

Best known for his role in 1965 as Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," the 87-year-old was reportedly Scott's original first choice before he was pressured into picking a bigger name.

A Massachusetts mother accused Spacey this week of sexually assaulting her 18-year-old son on the holiday island of Nantucket last year.

Dropped by Netflix, he has also been accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old boy in New York and of making advances decades ago on actor Anthony Rapp, when he was 14 years old.

- Unprecedented -

While filmmakers have been forced into quick recasting decisions before, such a bold move for non-creative reasons in a finished movie is unprecedented.

Sony's TriStar has pulled the project from the prestigious closing slot of the AFI Fest in Los Angeles but Scott's crew is racing nevertheless to honor the planned December 22 release.

"Many celebrities misbehave but audiences find it hardest to forgive allegations of child sexual assault. I doubt we'll be seeing a Spacey comeback," added Sehdev, author of "The Kim Kardashian Principle."

"Kevin Spacey has turned toxic for good reason. Audiences judge brands based on how quickly they act. If you value your reputation, you need to get away and stay away from Spacey immediately."

If the decision to drop Spacey was straightforward, the race to finish the movie in time for its original release date is more complicated.

Sony and financier Imperative Entertainment had considered nudging the release to 2018, according to Variety magazine.

But they wanted it to open ahead of Danny Boyle's FX series "Trust," also about the Getty kidnapping and due to debut in January.

The movie is also expected to be among the favorites for the upcoming awards season but must hit theaters by the end of the year to have a chance at the Oscars.

It is not entirely uncharted territory for Scott, who was hit by the death of British legend Oliver Reed three weeks before wrapping "Gladiator" (2000).

Then, the director rewrote parts of the movie to include previously filmed scenes featuring Reed and shot new material with a body double digitally spliced with Reed's head.

- A gamble -

Some 15 years earlier, Robert Zemeckis replaced Eric Stoltz with Michael J. Fox five weeks into shooting "Back To The Future," after deciding he'd cast the wrong rising star.

Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick faced similar problems with "September" (1987) and "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999) respectively, both ordering extensive reshoots.

While digital trickery is never straightforward, the technology is sufficiently advanced for Plummer to do much of his acting against a green screen, to be pasted into existing footage later.

But it is understood that the preferred option is to bring back co-stars Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for reshoots alongside the stand-in.

The extra eight days required for Plummer to replicate Spacey's scenes is expected to cost around $2.5 million, but the real financial drag could be the new trailers and posters, plus post-production.

Whether the gamble pays off will likely depend as much on how slick the substitute looks as the extent to which the taint of scandal has been wiped clean.

"When (Reed) died we had to make sense of the whole end of the film. It's a very weird thing to have to do -- particularly then, when the technology wasn't really there at all," "Gladiator" visual effects supervisor Rob Harvey told the BBC.

"It was a clever bit of directing and scriptwriting. We just tried to do it as tastefully as possible."