But before the star-studded whodunit lands on the big screen, the studio will have to navigate a potential PR nightmare surrounding Armie Hammer, who faced sexual abuse allegations after filming was complete. He’s (barely) featured in the latest trailer, but his involvement in the movie’s press tour, which would be de rigueur for any actor with a prominent role, remains unclear.
More from Variety
In the months following rape and abuse accusations, Hammer has been all but officially ousted from Hollywood. He has exited Jennifer Lopez’s “Shotgun Wedding,” the thriller “Billion Dollar Spy,” the Paramount Plus series “The Offer” and the Broadway play, “The Minutes.” He was also dropped by his talent agency, WME. Hammer has denied all allegations that have been leveled him and recently exited a treatment facility.
In the case of “Death on the Nile,” however, Disney had already indicated the company had no plans to recast Hammer or cut around his role. In the newly released trailer, it’s clear the studio attempted to minimize, though not completely erase, his appearance. Throughout the two-minute clip, he materializes several times but barely utters a sentence of dialogue. Disney also revealed a new poster, in which Hammer is noticeably on display.
Disney had the option to reshoot parts of the film or recast Hammer’s role, which would have been a rare though not unprecedented move. In 2017, Sony fired Kevin Spacey from “All the Money in the World” and replaced the disgraced actor with Christopher Plummer. But Disney never strongly considered those choices because it would have cost tens of millions of dollars on top of production quagmires. Extensive digital editing would have essentially been impossible because Hammer is one of the male leads, and re-assembling the A-list ensemble would have been nightmarish given COVID-19 restrictions and busy schedules.
As previously reported, Hammer has been accused of rape, sexual assault and abusive behavior by extramarital partners. Hammer has vehemently denied the claims, though the criminal allegations led to an LAPD investigation with Hammer as the prime suspect — something that Disney learned about as the news hit the press. Earlier in the year, an attorney for Hammer said he “has maintained that all of his interactions … have been completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory.”
Given those concerns, there were rumors percolating that “Death on the Nile” would skip cinemas entirely and instead premiere on either Disney Plus or Hulu. However, Disney has to release the film exclusively in theaters due to contractual obligations as a 20th Century acquisition. Plus, sources believe the movie has real commercial prospects on the big screen. After all, its predecessor, “Murder on the Orient Express,” was a huge box office success, earning more than $350 million at the worldwide box office.
Ahead of the film’s Feb. 11 release date, though, additional dilemmas loom. The upcoming press tour for “Death on the Nile” could become a headache. Even if Hammer doesn’t participate, the remaining cast members could be peppered with questions about him rather than their work on the movie.
Disney declined to comment. Hammer’s legal representative did not respond for comment.
Luckily for Disney, Hammer isn’t the only famous face in the movie. “Death on the Nile” centers on Branagh as famed detective Hercule Poirot as he investigates the murder of a young heiress aboard a cruise ship that is sailing on the Nile River. Along with Hammer and Branagh, the starry cast includes Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, Annette Bening and Russell Brand. The hope, at least on the studio level, would be for those actors to sell the movie and distract from chatter around Hammer.
Executives on the film haven’t commented on Hammer’s controversy, instead opting to play up Branagh’s “sweeping, elegant vision.”
“Ken’s sweeping, elegant vision for this classic story deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible,” 20th Century Studios production president Steve Asbell said in a statement. “We’re so proud of this film, our brilliant cast, and the stellar work that went into bringing ‘Death on the Nile’ to screen. We know that audiences can’t wait to experience Hercule Poirot’s next adventure, and we’re thrilled to continue working with Ken as he lends his masterful storytelling vision to the newest film in this celebrated franchise.”
James Prichard, chairman and CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd., adds, “More than 100 years after the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, her crime fiction works remain immensely popular and continue to be discovered anew by people around the world. I’m thrilled that Disney and our partners believe in this franchise, which has helped introduce millions of new fans to Christie’s classic works. We’re honored to be in business with Disney, Ken, and all who are dedicated to preserving the long legacy of these titles for future generations.”
Watch the new trailer below:
Best of Variety