Natalie Portman's indie western faces series of troubles

March 21, 2013|By Nicole Sperling
  • Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, right, with actress Tilda Swinton during a promotional tour for the film "We Need to Talk About Kevin." (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, right, with actress Tilda Swinton during… (Genaro Molina )

It's going to be difficult for the plot of Natalie Portman's new indie western to be as compelling as the backstory that's been unfolding in recent days on the film's movie set.

First Michael Fassbender dropped out of the Western “Jane Got a Gun" just weeks before the movie was set to begin production. But that was nothing compared to the film’s director, Lynne Ramsay (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”), abandoning the movie on Monday, its first day of shooting, leaving hundreds of cast and crew members on a dusty plain in New Mexico with no one at the helm. 

Her abrupt departure set in motion a series of quickly patched-together events. The film's producers scrambled to hire "Warrior" director Gavin O'Connor to fill Ramsay's slot. But even as he was flying to New Mexico to take her place Wednesday morning, Jude Law —himself a recent replacement to the cast — dropped off the film too. (Another source said Law had signed on specifically to work with Ramsay.)

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Now O'Connor must rush to find a new villain as he simultaneously jumps into a production that has already begun moving ahead.

Ramsay hasn't said why she left the production, but Deadline Hollywood indicated Tuesday morning that she may be in breach of her contract when she didn't show up on set.

Financier Scott Steindorff was quoted as saying, “I have millions of dollars invested, we’re ready to shoot, we have a great script, crew and cast,” adding that he's retained lawyer Martin Singer to represent him in the matter.

Swirling around Hollywood since this dramatic departure are all sorts of spins on the situation.

One source close to the production who spoke to The Times said Ramsay terminated her involvement with the producers on the Saturday before production began because of a contract dispute.

Reps from her agency, WME, declined to comment.

Another source with knowledge of the film's inner workings said Ramsay may be dealing with some personal issues and that's why she failed to show on Monday. The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation, said that at 5:30 a.m. Monday, stars Portman and Joel Edgerton were prepped and ready to go along with the 150-person crew and some horses. Yet they had no Ramsay.

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The Scottish director, one source added, has returned to the U.K.

Ramsay is a highly regarded indie director. Her debut feature, "Ratcatcher," won much acclaim, while 2011's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" headed many Top 10 film lists of that year. In 2007, the Guardian newspaper named her one of the 40 best directors working today.

"Jane Got a Gun" represented her highest-profile project. A few sources near the project say there were signs something was amiss leading to the start of production — she was often out of contact as the movie was being prepped.

Producer Steindorff appeared to have a close relationship with Ramsay — his daughter Jessica was serving as her manager. According to the one source close to the production, as late as Monday morning the elder Steindorff was trying to bring Ramsay back to the film. Calls to Steindorff were not returned. The younger Steindorff would say only that she was indeed Ramsay's manager but has recently severed the relationship.

The film, which would have been Ramsay's fourth, stars Portman as Jane, a woman whose husband comes home riddled with bullets. Convinced the gang that wounded him will return to finish the job, she turns to an ex-lover to help her defend her husband and her farm. Fassbender was set to play the ex-lover, but he dropped off the project this month reportedly because of scheduling issues with his upcoming “X-Men” movie.

That departure saw Edgerton, originally slated to play the villain, take on the Fassbender role while Jude Law signed up to replace Edgerton as the bad guy.

Now with Law off the film, O'Connor is said to be looking at a slew of actors, namely those with an international brand who also happen to look good in a hat. On that list are Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges.


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