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This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Screenwriter Tom Clynes arrived Dec. 1 at his usual coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Mich., ready to polish his script and send it to the movie star who, two days earlier, had emailed to say he was eager to see it.
“I’m really sorry to hear the news about Paul Walker,” the barista told him. Clynes, who doesn’t own a TV, didn’t know that Walker, 40, had been killed in a car crash the night before. And three months later, he still isn’t sure what will become of the screenplay he, Walker and Walker’s manager, Matt Luber, had spent a year molding into a vehicle for the star to stretch his acting chops.
Eden’s Army was to be Walker’s passion project, an action-adventure romance about rescuing the endangered white rhinoceros from poachers. Luber says it was meant to mark a new path for the Fast & Furious star to “develop a few projects with purpose and heart.”
Luber and Walker, both conservationists, had asked UTA, his agency, to find a script related to African poaching. As it happened,Clynes, a National Geographic contributor who has written extensively about endangered wildlife, recently had finished Eden’s Army, his second screenplay. UTA had represented him in the sale of movie rights to a Popular Science feature and passed along the new script. “We liked his writing,” says Luber. “You could tell he’s well-educated in that world.”
Still, Eden’s Army was far from shoot-ready. In early drafts, Clynes’ hero was a conservation biologist-turned-Washington bureaucrat who went to Africa to attend his mentor’s funeral and rediscover his masculinity. To turn it into a Walker film, he was asked to make the protagonist an ex-soldier searching for his identity but not necessarily his virility. “In the original, he needed to get his balls back, but Paul is an actor who really needs to come into a movie with his balls intact,” says Clynes, 53. “He wanted to be active from the beginning as a fighter, and it made sense. This guy, Paul, had fantastic ideas.”
In the latest script, war vet Jesse Marcheur (French for “Walker”) gets drawn into a plot to airlift white rhinos from the Congo and battles, then falls for, a British elephant researcher — an Emily Blunt-type, says Clynes.
Walker, whose final two movies, Brick Mansions and Fast & Furious 7 will hit theaters April 25 and April 2015, respectively, “would’ve really liked the character now,” says Luber. But financing for the $15 million to $20 million project wasn’t secured, and Eden’s Army remains in limbo as Luber adjusts to the loss of his close friend and client.
“I’m settling back in,” he says. “I’ll probably get back with Tom, give him my thoughts and see if we can get the piece to a place and make it in Paul’s honor.”
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