Directors and studios have been at odds over big-budget productions many a time in the past - especially when it concerned who should be cast in what role in the film. Sam Raimi certainly has experience with that (see: the casting of Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man) and he appears to have found himself on familiar territory with his new film, Oz the Great and Powerful.
Raimi reportedly has his eye on multiple Oscar-winner Hilary Swank to portray a villainous witch in his Wizard of Oz project. Walt Disney Pictures however, is said to want the part offered to multiple Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams instead. What a dilemma!
According to their sources, Vulture has been informed that Disney is "strongly opposed" to the casting of Swank - and that Raimi is "adamant" about having the Boys Don't Cry actress join Mila Kunis as one of the sorceresses who crosses paths with the charming huckster Oz (James Franco) in the film. It doesn't look like this is a deal-breaker for Raimi, but he does have a history of standing strong about his casting choices, in the face of studio opposition (see: Spider-Man 4 cancellation).
Oz the Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts that - according to (unconfirmed) leaked plot details - reveals how the titular "wizard" arrived in that magical place somewhere over the rainbow and fell in love with the Good Witch Glinda, a role Blake Lively was previously considering. It also explores how his arrival inspired the lovely but sinister witches Theodora (Kunis) and Evanora (the part Swank/Williams are being eyed for) to set out and conquer Oz for themselves.
The Wicked Witches of the East & West are also described as "incredibly attractive, seductive women" and it's said that Oz declining Theodora's sexual advances really sets the conflict in motion. Take all that as you will.
Pardon my cynicism, but it seems pretty clear to me that Disney is aiming to cast young and "sexy" for the witches in Oz - and while Swank is both a talented thespian and beautiful woman to boot, I suspect she doesn't qualify in the eyes of certain Disney heads. That's not at all a knock against Williams, who is a great actress as well. It's just that this Wizard of Oz pic is gearing up to be a huge (read: upwards of $200 million cost) production, so Disney likely wants it to look as "attractive" as possible on paper.
As I see it though, this is a win-win situation for audiences; both Swank and Williams could be fun as an evil and sensuous witch - one who is (by the sound of it) supposed to be a bit older and more mind-over-matter than her seductive cohort. So we'll have to see whether Raimi or Disney ultimately gets their way.
That's assuming you're interested in seeing this Wizard of Oz flick in the first place - and so far, there actually seems to be good reason to be interested. If nothing else, I'm curious as to what the realm of Oz will look like after being filtered through the mind of Sam Raimi.
Filming on Oz the Great and Powerful is slated to begin this July, so keep an eye out for some official casting news in the near future.