EXCLUSIVE: Almost 16 years ago Denzel Washington and Ridley Scott wowed audiences with their hit crime drama American Gangster, and now it looks like the the two A-listers are ready to get back together in a big way. Sources tell Deadline that Washington is in final negotiations to co-star in Scott’s sequel to his Oscar Best Picture winner Gladiator for Paramount.
Paul Mescal is on board to star opposite Washington, with Scott returning to the director’s chair.
Scott also will produce with Scott Free president Michael Pruss as well as Doug Wick & Lucy Fisher via Red Wagon Entertainment. David Scarpa penned the script. Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald are executive producing.
Also returning from the original film are costume designer Janty Yates and production designer Arthur Max.
The first film was co-production between Universal and DreamWorks, and while DreamWorks will not be involved in the sequel, Universal has the right to partner again when the project is packaged.
Once Mescal was locked for the project, Scott and Paramount Pictures President & CEO Brian Robbins and Co-Presidents Daria Cercek and Michael Ireland pushed hard for a star for the other major role in the film and took a shot with Washington, the two-time Oscar winner. When the offer was first presented there it was unknown whether he would actually do it; Washington is known for his great taste in projects and doesn’t sign up for anything. But after reading the script, sources close to the project said he was excited about the bad-ass role Scott had written with him in mind.
A meeting with Scott soon followed, and after the director gave his pitch, Washington was all but on board.
The new film follows the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator, which earned more than $460 million in worldwide box office and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning five including Best Picture.
The role of Maximus, the Roman general-turned-gladiator, was a career-changer for Russell Crowe, not only delivering him the Best Actor Oscar but also launching him to the top of every leading-man list. Once it was made clear last year that the sequel would be Scott’s next movie, every male actor in town that fit the profile began chasing the part.
Mescal won’t be replacing Crowe’s Maximus, whose character met his end in the original film. Instead he plays Lucius, the son of Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), as a grown man as the story takes place years after the first film ended. Lucius also was the nephew of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of Roman leader Marcus Aurelius who murdered his father and seized the throne. Commodus wound up in the gladiator ring with Maximus who, though mortally wounded, skewered the emperor before fading into the great beyond to reunite with his slain wife and son. Maximus saved the Lucius and Lucilla while avenging his own family, and left a strong impression on the young boy.
Washington’s role is being kept under wraps.
Washington has always had strong ties not only to Ridley but also the Scott family, starring in several films of Ridley’s late brother Tony prior to his death in 2012. After working on Tony Scott thrillers like Crimson Tide and Man on Fire, Washington finally teamed with Ridley Scott on the 2007 crime thriller American Gangster (ironically, that film also starred Crowe). It was a box office hit, and for years Washington and Scott have been looking for that next big thing on which to team.
Washington was last seen in his Oscar-nominated role in Apple and A24’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. He can be seen next in the third Equalizer film for Sony that bows later this year. He is repped by WME.