It's hardball time again in Hollywood.
Universal Pictures has sued "Austin Powers" star Mike Myers for breach of contract, angered that the comedian has abruptly walked away from his new film, "Sprockets," which was due to begin shooting in early August.
The movie, Myers' first project since last summer's runaway hit "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," was slated to be Universal's big summer comedy for 2001.
The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, came nearly a week after a meeting Myers convened with Universal top executives Ron Meyer and Stacey Snider and Imagine Entertainment chief Brian Grazer, the film's producer, during which the comic announced that he felt the film's script didn't work and that he no longer wanted to make the movie.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Myers said he was "shocked and dismayed" by the suit, adding that he could not "in good conscience accept $20 million and cheat moviegoers who pay their hard-earned money for my work by making a movie with an unacceptable script." He also said he intends to sue Universal for fraud because of the studio's efforts to coerce him into making a movie against his wishes.
Myers' supporters say the actor had script approval over the project and had never officially signed off on the script. However, his disenchantment with the project came as a surprise, since he was the driving force behind the film, which was based on Dieter, the avant-garde German talk-show host that had been a popular Myers character during his stint on "Saturday Night Live." Myers was also the film's co-writer and producer and had hand-picked most of the key creative team, including the director, Bo Welch, cinematographer and casting director.
Universal had even agreed to Myers' request to shoot the picture at Warner Hollywood Studios instead of the Universal lot, because Warner Hollywood was located closer to the star's home. The studio had also renegotiated Myers' salary after the success of the "Austin Powers" sequel. The star was originally signed to a $10-million salary, which was recently upped to $20 million-plus, against 12.5% of the gross.
Universal is said to be furious with the actor's last-minute move, feeling he had left the studio with no summer comedy for next year. The film had already been cast and was in pre-production, with close to 100 people on salary. According to the studio's suit, Universal seeks to recover $5 million it has already spent on the project, as well as lost potential profits. It also asked the court to enjoin Myers from working on any other film or TV project during the time period when "Sprockets" would have been filming.
During the past days there has been a flurry of negotiations between the studio, Imagine and Myers' CAA agents. The picture wouldn't be made without him.
Imagine's Grazer sounded a positive note. "I'm completely optimistic that the genius of Mike Myers will prevail and the movie will get made as scheduled," he said.
In a statement released Tuesday, the studio said "we are living up to our end of the deal and expect Mr. Myers to live up to his end."