Rob Marshall Takes On Sondheim's 'Into the Woods,' Signs 2-Year Disney Deal (Exclusive)

Rob Marshall Portrait - P 2011

Rob Marshall Portrait - P 2011

'Woods' furthers Marshall’s relationship with Disney, where he made his last film, 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which has earned just over $1 billion globally.

Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall is reteaming with Disney for a film adaptation of Into the Woods, the classic 1980s Broadway musical written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

The project is one of two that Marshall is pursuing as his next feature, along with a new version of The Thin Man that’s in development at Warner Bros., which has Johnny Depp attached to star. No cast is yet attached to the musical.

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Woods furthers Marshall’s relationship with Disney, where he made his last film, 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which has earned just over $1 billion globally.

Extending that commitment, he tells THR that he and producing partner John DeLuca have signed a two-year, first-look deal with the studio and plan to move more actively into production through their company, LUCAMAR.

“You have to be very careful not to spread yourself so thin that you are doing a lot of nothing,” he cautions, “but we love that idea. Movies for a director take so long — two and a half or three years. It would be nice to be able to develop something and let someone else go off and do it.”

Into the Woods — which intertwines several classic fairytale characters, including Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, with the story of a baker and his wife’s attempt to have a family — returns the helmer and longtime choreographer to the musical genre at which he has excelled with movies including Oscar winner Chicago (2002) and Nine (2009).

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He says he first started thinking of it a year ago, while in postproduction on Pirates. After calling Lapine, the two got together in producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s Santa Monica offices.

“We talked about the meaning of it and how timely it is still, and about family – that’s always at the core of our lives,” he says. “James said: ‘But I don’t want to put it in development for another 10 years.’ ” Marshall agreed, and then brought it to Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross and production president Sean Bailey. “They were classy, classy, classy and incredibly generous to us,” he adds,

Lapine is now at work on the script, which Marshall expects to feature new songs by Sondheim.

The project reunites him with the musical giant, for whom Marshall worked as a choreographer twice in the 1990s, with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Company. He first met Sondheim at Broadway director Hal Prince’s Christmas party in 1993, when Marshall was choreographing Prince’s stage version of The Kiss of the Spider Woman, his first Broadway outing as choreographer.

“He’s a genius when it comes to his score,” Marshall says of Sondheim, “but what’s so extraordinary is, he really understands all the elements of theater — the choreography, the book and the production design — and has an amazing sense of the whole.”

Marshall at one point had thought of directing Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but that fell through because of “timing,” he says. Subsequently, it was made as a film by director Tim Burton, with Depp starring.

There have been several other attempts to bring Into the Woods to the screen.

At one point in 1994, it got as far as a reading at Penny Marshall’s house, with Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn and Cher; later, it was developed at Columbia Pictures with director Rob Minkoff attached and Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon in talks to star.

Now Marshall is at his home base in New York, collaborating extensively on Woods and Thin Man, uncertain which will go first.

“Usually the movie tells you,” he says. “I’ve been working with Billy Ray on Thin Man and he’s writing as we speak. We are very close to having a first draft.” Both projects, he says, “are real collaborative efforts.”

As to the next Pirates, he notes: “Terry [Rossio] is writing it and he’s working incredibly hard and he did a draft and rethought it all and started working on it again. You want to make sure you are asking the audience to come back to see an exciting adventure and it has to reach that caliber, and if not there’s no reason to do it. I know Johnny feels the same way: He needs to see a script, but he would be happy — if it’s the right script — to put that hat and sword back on.”