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This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For her next directorial project, Angelina Jolie will tackle famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, whose quest to save elephants and rhinos put him in the crosshairs of violent poachers. But a drama playing out behind the scenes between once-married producers has left the Skydance film, titled Africa, hanging in the balance.
According to Skydance’s Sept. 19 news release, studio mogul-turned-producer Jon Peters will produce the “sweeping epic” alongside Jolie and Skydance’s David Ellison and Dana Goldberg. Not mentioned was the fact that Peters’ ex-wife, Christine Forsyth Peters, also claims a stake in the film, which she began developing at Sony more than 23 years ago when her former husband was running the studio. In fact, Forsyth Peters tells THR she put the project in motion when she trekked to Kenya in 1991 and persuaded a hesitant Leakey to sign an agreement not to sue over a proposed film about him. And when Leakey lost his legs as the result of a 1993 plane crash — possibly perpetrated by poachers — Forsyth Peters claims she paid for his prosthetics.
But the project languished, despite a screenplay from Oscar winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), and Sony eventually put it into turnaround. In 2012, Skydance made a play for Leakey’s story and, a source says, plunked down $6 million to extricate it, with the provision that Forsyth Peters sign off on handing over the project — something that she has not yet done.
Now, Skydance quietly is negotiating with Forsyth Peters — a producer in her own right, whose credits include How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days — to go away. But she says she’s not interested in abandoning her passion project and wants to stay involved. She says she has additional leverage because she also acquired big-screen rights to Leakey’s 2001 memoir Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures last summer.
The prospect of a Peters reunion — albeit as producers — could cause problems behind the camera. The quirky pair, who were married from 1987 to 1993 and have two adopted daughters together, are known to butt heads frequently (in 2006, he tried to evict her from his Bel-Air mansion). But Skydance might have no choice but to keep both on the project, which as of yet has no distributor. Skydance declined comment.
For her part, Jolie (UTA, Sloane Offer) wants to move quickly on Africa, which would mark her fourth feature as a director. After December’s Unbroken, she will segue to helming By the Sea, which will star husband Brad Pitt, and then she hopes to tackle Africa, meaning Skydance will need to tie up all loose ends by then. “I’m sure now the ‘ticking clock’ is ignited,” Forsyth Peters tells THR. “I should be hearing from Skydance next week.”
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