The Hughes brothers' loss appears to be Sam Raimi’s gain: Vulture hears that Mila Kunis is walking away from Warner Bros.' live-action remake of Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s 1988 manga epic Akira and instead intends to star opposite James Franco in Raimi's Oz, The Great and Powerful, the prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
The closely guarded Oz script, reimagined most recently by playwright turned screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole after an original draft by Mitchell Kapner; Inkheart), tells the story of the origins of the Wizard, and of Oz's infamous witches like Glinda, who becomes the Good Witch of the North, and Evanorah, who becomes the Wicked Witch of the East (though best remembered as the new, ruby-slippered sub-basement of Dorothy’s farmhouse).
After a recent meeting with Raimi and Wizard James Franco, all agreed that Kunis would be perfect for the part of Theodorah, the younger sister of Evanorah who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West and, of course, to cackle iconic lines like, “I’ll get you, my pretty and your little dog, too!” With her involvement assured, we're told that Franco finally agreed to do the picture.
Still, you can’t blame the Hughes Bros. for a lack of trying to land the star of Black Swan. We’re told by knowledgeable insiders that director Albert Hughes had been pleading with Warner Bros. senior management to let him cast the best possible actors, regardless of their worldwide profiles — or lack of them. But Akira is such an expensive movie, the studio is insisting on a massive star to anchor the film. So much so that earlier in the week, Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov phoned up Brad Pitt himself and offered him the lead role of Kaneda. Because the studio didn’t allow Hughes to cast whomever he wanted to in the lead role, we’re told Robinov relented and allowed Hughes to make the offer to Kunis to play Kei, the gorgeous young revolutionary with whom Kaneda becomes enamored on his quest to find his disappeared best friend.
But when Pitt passed on Akira two days ago, it threw the immediate future of the Hughes' project into disarray. Because it’s not yet clear which Big Movie Star would be both right for the Kaneda part and available to play it, just when Akira might fire up production remains unclear. And in that state of uncertainty, we hear Kunis is committing to starring in Oz instead: Shooting is set to begin this July at the Walt Disney Studios.
“Oh, what a world! What a world!” indeed.