In November 2006, MGM handed Tom Cruise the keys to a gleaming, custom-refurbished United Artists, and, with a $500 million credit line for fuel, instructed the giddy superstar to take his longtime producing sweetheart Paula Wagner on the ride of a lifetime. Two years later, the duo managed to journey to one place only—Turkeyvania—with a release slate consisting of Lions For Lambs, and the soon-to-bomb Valkyrie. (Even sooner than expected! It's just been announced that its release date has been moved back two months to December 26th, either shortening its suffering, or lengthening ours, depending on how you look at it.) Yesterday came news of EVP of production Jeff Kleeman's departure after just 11 months, leaving no one at the company but Cruise, Wagner, an assistant fully engrossed in the latest OK!, and a cleaning woman chasing after Nazi-eyepatch-dotted tumbleweeds rolling through the hallways. Variety is now reporting that the trigger-shy Wagner "is in talks with MGM to leave her post," a departure Deadline Hollywood Daily explains was something of an inevitability:
As one source explained to me, the only future for UA was if "Paula calls it a day, or the company implodes on its own, or a gun is put to Wagner's head by financiers and she greenlights things and then trusts in luck..."
UA under Wagner was way behind on the timetable dictated by its financing, I'm told. "Paula wasn't greenlighting movies, so she was about to lose a lot of the money. Her camp is trying to say MGM screwed up. We didn't, she did. Now MGM can get UA moving on at least 2 movies, and make sure they're released by a certain date, to keep the financing intact." That said, I hear Wagner wants to go back to producing movies, but this time around she'll do it on her own.
Sure, she could do that, but this seems a perfect opportunity to return to her first love: acting. That is, after all, how she got her start, before her frustrated agent sat her down and told her what she really had was the soul of a baby-gobbling negotiator. Perhaps pacing outside a fluorescent-lit casting office, nervously running through her Big Bang Theory audition dialogue for Woman At Starbucks #2, is exactly what she needs to rediscover what she loved about this unforgiving business in the first place.