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Steve Zaillian Rewriting Universal's American Gangster

By — March 24th, 2006

In a seven-figure deal, Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment have rehired Steve Zaillian, this time to rewrite American Gangster.

The studio has also committed to a late July start date for the film to be directed by Ridley Scott and star Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Brian Grazer is producing.

The rewrite job and start date end speculation over whether Universal would step up to a reconfigured version of a film it killed last year.

Former Universal chairman Stacey Snider had put the brakes on a version of the film that had Antoine Fuqua directing Washington and Benicio Del Toro as she feared the budget could top $100 million. It was an expensive move, since the actors had pay-or-play deals that had to be settled.

Zaillian had written the original script about a Harlem drug kingpin (Washington) who smuggled heroin in the body bags of U.S. soldiers slain in Vietnam.

After the film halted, Universal conscripted Terry George to pen a downsized version of the story, but Grazer and Imagine exec Jim Whitaker couldn't let go of Zaillian's vision of the crime story.