Exclusive: Keanu Reeves passes on Akira, now what?
by Mike Sampson
Earlier this month, Warner Bros., in yet another attempt to get an A-list star with international appeal to anchor the increasingly expensive AKIRA, began informal talks with Keanu Reeves about taking the lead role in the film. The discussions were early but optimistic as Reeves seemed to have interest in the material but we can confirm that Reeves has officially joined Brad Pitt, James Franco and Ryan Gosling as actors who've passed on starring in AKIRA. And that's not the only speed bump Team AKIRA experienced this month on the way towards production.
Early Thursday morning, some time after receiving word from Reeves' reps that he would be passing on the project, Warner Bros. shut down AKIRA's pre-viz department and most of the staff that was working on the film was let go. While it may be easy to draw conclusions when you see both events taking place in the same week, I'm told that one has nothing to do with the other. Warners, who has a close relationship with Reeves after the MATRIX films, was disappointed he passed but are still actively looking for a lead.
When asked to comment on the production shake-up, Warner Bros. released the following statement: "Production on ‘Akira’ has not halted or been shut down, as the film has not yet been greenlit and is still very much in the development stage. The exploratory process is crucial to a project of this magnitude, and we will continue to sculpt our approach to making the best possible film."
Albert Hughes signed on to direct an adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo's six-volume manga series back in February of last year. Warner Bros. has been quietly developing the project since then with producer Leonardo DiCaprio keeping a watchful eye. But as the budget rose to upwards of $140 million, concerns within the studio grew rapidly. Steve Kloves was brought in to rewrite the script and presumably age Kaneda, the film's lead character, in order to attract a star with a higher profile.
At the same time, the studio was courting assistance on the film from an outside studio with the hopes of co-producing the film in exchange for international distribution rights. There was some speculation that WB and Universal would engage in a tit-for-tat over troubled productions with WB helping on Uni's THE DARK TOWER and Uni helping on AKIRA. That, obviously, never materialized and Warners now is taking a longer look at the project and its many complexities.
Hughes is still attached to the project and the studio may work with Hughes and Kloves on rewrites to scale back the budget and bring AKIRA back to the fast track. In fact, a source compared AKIRA to Alfonso Cuaron's GRAVITY, another sci-fi heavy project at Warner Bros. that had difficulty finding a lead. In February of 2010, Angelina Jolie was attached to star and pre-viz was trucking along when some delays forced Jolie to drop out. As Cuaron and WB worked on both the creative and business end of the film, pre-viz ceased, the schedule was again delayed and Robert Downey, Jr. exited the film. The project resolved those issues and now has Sandra Bullock and George Clooney set to star with production scheduled to begin next month.
So while it looks as if AKIRA is struggling now, it may be a temporary setback to a project, by all accounts, Warner Bros. is committed to putting before cameras. Until then, it looks as if AKIRA is the latest ambitious and expensive project having trouble finding a greenlight in Hollywood.