Blake Lively girl drama
I’ll admit up front that I’m not a fan of Blake Lively. So take all this with a grain of salt. I’d love to be able to point and laugh and go, “Haha, everyone hates Blake Lively.”
But a development broke last night that had me thinking I might be too hard on Lively, at least some of the time. After all, for all her chicanery—the nekkid cell phone photos, the rumors, the uptradey ways with men—at the end of the day, I don’t dislike her so much I’d jeopardize a film project over it. But that’s exactly what Megan Ellison, the billionaire heiress of a Silicon Valley fortune (daddy is top dog at Oracle) and founder of Annapurna Pictures, has done.
Here’s the chain of events. Steven Soderbergh announced a new project called Side Effects, about a woman who gets caught up in a love triangle between her newly-paroled husband and her doctor (she’s an addict). Blake Lively was chosen as the lead. Open Road Pictures came on to distribute but they needed a financing partner. Enter Annapurna Pictures and Megan Ellison, armed with daddy’s dollars. But just a week later, Annapurna dropped out and it emerged that Ellison objected to Lively’s casting and she left the project—dollars in tow—when Soderbergh wouldn’t ditch Lively.
The thing is, the last few years, Soderbergh has gotten his kicks out of working with, shall we say, less than expected actors. He used porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, MMA star Gina Carano in Haywire, and we’ve all been scratching our heads at his sudden man crush on Channing Tatum (Side Effects will be their third movie together). That Soderbergh would be drawn to Lively, an actress searching for legitimacy and with a lot of nay-sayers, is not surprising. And she was already on board when Ellison agreed to co-finance. So why did Ellison then pull funding?
I’m told that Ellison wants Annapurna to have an exclusive reputation and only wants to work with the elites. This is borne out by her current slate, which includes two films from PT Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker follow up about the raid on bin Laden, a biopic about Julian Assange, and she was involved with the Coen brothers’ True Grit. Soderbergh would fall into that category, but Lively is a little, um, downmarket. Given the timing, it appears that Ellison came aboard and likely thought she could get rid of Lively. When Soderbergh wouldn’t budge on casting (he is very particular about that), Ellison took her toys back and went home.
It would be easy to start laughing at Lively at this point, but really I’m side-eyeing Ellison. She’s left Soderbergh in the lurch just a few months before he’s scheduled to start shooting and suddenly he’s having to go back over his casting choices. Ellison’s decision to withdraw over Lively’s involvement could potentially influence the next producing partner to have similar concerns. Soderbergh and company have started assembling a list of alternatives in case Lively is ousted—financing shakeups almost always cause casting changes—but he’s already made his choice! He shouldn’t have to recast a part because a co-financer took exception to a decision he made before that producer was even involved. These are not the kinds of dealings you want to have if you’re trying to position yourself as the savior of artistic filmmakers.
It almost hurts me to say it, but in this instance, Blake Lively appears to be the innocent bystander, unfairly thrown into the middle of a creative spat between a filmmaker and his investor. Again, this is what Soderbergh does. He likes to work with unexpected people. He’ll be prepared to defend his decision, and he wouldn’t be the only director to do so. Oliver Stone cast Lively in Savages and defended her, calling her a really good actress. And you know, for all her off-the-clock chicanery, no one complains about Lively being a pill on set. There, at least, she’s professional. So what was Ellison’s problem? It kind of looks like every day average girl drama. Ellison is young—just 25—and she’s establishing herself by burning through daddy’s money. So basically, it’s the pop tartlet with the sketchy reputation vs. the rich girl who pouted in the worst fashion when she didn’t get her way.
If those are my choices, suddenly Blake Lively doesn’t look so bad.
Update: Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura is now saying that Lively's casting was just a rumor and nothing was set in stone. Lively showed at the Haywire premiere, though, and that typically signals involvement with the filmmaker. While I wouldn't put it past Lively to maneuver to look more involved than she really is, Soderbergh doesn't mess around like that and I don't think she's dumb enough to risk pissing him off with game playing. Di Bonaventura's remarks sound more like hedging bets against further turmoil, setting up an out if/when Lively is released.