When Contagion and Side Effects director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns made plans to re-collaborate on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - based on the 1960s TV show about an international secret agent duo - the intention was to cast a more-experienced and older leading man as one of the two leads, with an eye on George Clooney for the job.
Clooney had to pass, in order to recover after having surgery on his back and neck; then, around three months later, Soderbergh dropped the project as a result of creative differences with Warner Bros. The studio then brought Guy Ritchie onboard to direct, but it took more than a year before a suitable replacement for Clooney was found - in the form of Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise.
Deadline is reporting that Armie Hammer (The Social Network) has been set to play Cruise's partner in Ritchie's Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie adaptation. Hammer will be portraying "a version" of the Illya Kuryakin character - as was originated by David McCallum in the source TV series that ran from 1964-68 - while Cruise plays "a version" of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughan in the original show), an agent of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, a.k.a. U.N.C.L.E.
Hammer will have the chance to prove his mettle as solid co-leading material this summer, when he shares the screen with Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger. The actor has demonstrated versatility and skill with his supporting roles in The Social Network, J. Edgar and Mirror Mirror in recent years, so hopefully the transition to lead status with Lone Ranger and Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a smooth one. Plus, if all goes well, there's always the chance he could play Batman in a Justice League movie down the line.
Burns has described the original Man from U.N.C.L.E. television program as "a really incredibly progressive, hopeful kind of show," with regard to how it promoted international cooperation and the importance of diverse thinking in the face of the Cold War era mentality. The question is, by casting two Americans to star, is this a signal of WB and Richie's intention to abandon that aspect - or will Hammer try his hand at a Russian accent, like the Scottish McCallum did on the original show?
J.J. Abrams found a way (through his casting) to keep the forward-thinking subtext in Star Trek - another progressive-minded genre TV show that originated during the 1960s - while Ritchie, likewise, managed to modernize Sherlock Holmes in a way that resonates with a larger audience. That's to say, there's hope for Man from U.N.C.L.E. proving to be a worthwhile revisitation of an old idea.
We'll keep you posted on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as more information becomes available.