Legendary Entertainment Courting Lawyer Josh Grode as New CEO (Exclusive)

Josh Grode - Variety's Dealmakers Breakfast - Getty - H 2017
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Hiring Grode would come some seven months after Thomas Tull was ousted from the top spot at the company that he founded in 2005 and eventually sold to China's Wanda for a reported $3.5 billion.

Legendary Entertainment is looking to one of its closest advisors to possibly fill its vacant CEO post.

The studio behind Pacific Rim and The Great Wall is aggressively pursuing attorney Josh Grode to take on the CEO role, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. Grode, a partner in the Los Angeles office of the Irell & Manella law firm and co-chair of the firm's Transactions practice, has represented Legendary for years and played a key role in the company's sale to China's Dalian Wanda Group in early 2016.

"Josh has been and continues to be a legal advisor to Wanda and Legendary and will continue render services to them and other clients," a spokesperson for Legendary says of Grode. A rep for the attorney declined to comment, and a source close to the situation stressed that an arrangement had not been finalized and could still fall apart. Until then, Grode continues in his legal practice. 

Hiring Grode would come some seven months after Thomas Tull stepped down from the top spot at the company that he founded in 2005 and eventually sold to Wanda for a reported $3.5 billion. Since then, Jack Gao, Wanda's CEO and senior vp international investments and operations, has been serving as Legendary's interim chief exec. The company at one point was in talks with former Fox film chief Jim Gianopulos to take on the CEO job, but Gianopulos chose to join Paramount instead. Legendary is currently in postproduction on Pacific Rim: Uprising and has several other projects in development under film studio chief Mary Parent.

Wanda's purchase of Legendary, the largest move by a Chinese company in Hollywood, helped transform Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin into a major power player given that the Chinese real estate giant also owns the AMC Entertainment cinema chain. But Wanda has been reeling in recent months in the wake of reports that multi-billionaire Wang was on the outs with Chinese authorities and forbidden to leave the country. Shares of the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary plummeted some 10 percent on Monday amid rumors Wang had been detained.

Wanda has denied the rumors about Wang, but the leadership situation at Wanda could complicate the effort to close a deal with Grode to take over Legendary, according to one source close to the situation.

Though Grode would be an outside-the-box choice to head up Legendary, he is no stranger to Hollywood's mega-deal landscape, having represented Colony Capital in its $660 million purchase of Miramax Films from Disney and subsequently Miramax when it was sold to beIN Media Group. Grode also played a key role in the creation of Twilight studio Summit Entertainment and its sale to Lionsgate, which is fueling chatter that current Summit/Lionsgate film executive Patrick Wachsberger could join Grode at Legendary and run its international division. Wachsberger has a contract at Lionsgate that sources say extends into 2018, but he is said to be restless at the studio and looking to make a move. Wachsberger, a major player on the international film scene, would give Legendary a strong footing in the foreign sales sphere.

Legendary began as Tull's financing entity, investing in such big-budget films as Warner. Bros.' The Dark Knight as well as the lower-budget Hangover films. But in 2013, it became an independent studio based at Universal and suffered a string of flops, including Blackhat and The Great Wall. The company development slate includes a Pokemon movie, a new Dune and a China-set Dwayne Johnson action movie.

Wanda has struggled to become a truly global cinema business that houses Legendary and its other entertainment properties under a singular umbrella. A plan for a combined entertainment group was poised to go public on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in a deal at an estimated $5.6 billion, but it was postponed.