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A few days into November, and a few weeks into the most scandal-plagued era of a scandal-plagued business, Ridley Scott called Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman to tell him of a bold move he was preparing to make. Days after Kevin Spacey had been accused of harassing and assaulting a series of boys and young men, Scott was ready to replace him in his new thriller, All the Money in the World, recruiting Christopher Plummer to take on the role of J. Paul Getty.
Now, with the clock ticking on Money‘s planned Dec. 22 release, Sony’s marketing team is scrambling to recalibrate a campaign — and facing a problem unlike any seen before: the loss of a major star weeks before awards voters lock in their choices, with Scott left to complete an added 10-day shoot before a morsel of Plummer’s work can be shown.
Other awards contenders have faced the loss of a performer (Gladiator‘s Oliver Reed died during filming, and The Dark Knight‘s Heath Ledger died after production wrapped), but none had to replace a lead so close to opening.
Money is just one of the pictures dealing with the Harassgate fallout. Admittedly, awards campaigns seem minor compared to the horrendous allegations now swirling; but it’s having a major effect beyond merely such Weinstein Co. titles as The Current War (postponed until 2018) and Wind River (production company Acacia Entertainment, with backing from the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, is now footing the bill for an awards push, since the film has been scrubbed of the TWC name).
The Louis C.K. comedy I Love You, Daddy is dead in the water, and that’s after C.K. and his backers had begun to send screeners to critics groups, at an estimated cost of $70,000. On Nov. 10, The Orchard announced it would no longer distribute the film — and after its star admitted there’s truth to allegations he masturbated in front of colleagues, it’s hard to imagine who will.
The scandal has also put a damper on Amazon’s Wonder Wheel, the latest oeuvre from writer-director Woody Allen, who got caught in the crossfire when he made comments in Harvey Weinstein’s defense — even though he quickly backtracked. Wheel was once seen as a strong contender for its writing and for lead actress Kate Winslet. She already had to tread a delicate path, avoiding questions of why she chose to work with Allen, who has been accused of molesting his adopted daughter, which he has denied. And now that path is even narrower.
Hollywood spin doctors used to be masterful at pushing scandal under the rug. A virulent whisper campaign that the real-life hero of 2001’s A Beautiful Mind was an anti-Semite didn’t prevent the film from being named best picture. Nor did the fact that Roman Polanski had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor block him from winning a directing Oscar for 2002’s The Pianist. As recently as February, reports that Casey Affleck had settled sexual harassment claims failed to derail his best actor win for Manchester by the Sea — though it might derail the Oscarcast producers’ plans to have him present the best actress trophy at the 90th awards, if the controversy kicks in again.
But with the sheer volume of scandals this year and the sense that a host of other high-profile men may be poised for a fall, nobody is standing by alleged culprits. They may have learned from Fox Searchlight’s failed efforts on behalf of 2016’s The Birth of a Nation, whose actor-writer-director, Nate Parker, saw his awards hopes plummet when it was revealed that he’d stood trial for rape. Though he was found not guilty, the tawdriness of the tale, and Parker’s failed attempts to address it, left Birth stillborn.
Hollywood is under scrutiny as never before. And yet, at the Nov. 11 Governors Awards, there was no mention of the looming crisis, at least from the podium. “Tonight, we all aspire to reach higher,” said Steven Spielberg, exemplifying the optimism that has defined his career.
One can only hope he’s right, but pessimism could be more in order. This awards season may yet have to face its darkest hour.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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