Forget Team Edward versus Team Jacob, Taylor Lautner found himself in the midst of a bigger rivalry in toy-obsessed Hollywood: Team Mattel versus Team Hasbro. And Vulture has learned that Hasbro just won this round; Lautner had originally been signed on to do both Paramount’s Max Steel (based on the doll by Mattel, the world’s biggest toy company) and Universal’s Stretch Armstrong (a classic character for Hasbro, the world’s second biggest toymaker), with Steel up first. But insiders tell us that Lautner has just dropped the Mattel movie.
But how did Hasbro triumph? It all started back on December 4, when an Internet report billed Lautner as “Paramount’s Next Big Action Star” after the studio made the Steel deal. While the action figure is not particularly well-known in the States (though it was turned into a cartoon on Kids WB from 2000–02), Steel is a huge toy worldwide for Mattel. Former Revolution Studios chairman Joe Roth was set to produce the film, in which an orphan exposed to nano-technology becomes imbued with superhero powers.
Just days later, however, on December 12, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner watched Lautner do backflips and crack self-deprecating jokes as the host of Saturday Night Live, and the exec was impressed. Moreover, Goldner’s company also just happens to be a corporate client at Lautner’s agency, WME Entertainment. Goldner soon contacted WME’s top agents about casting Lautner as Stretch Armstrong, in a project Hasbro had set up two years earlier at Universal, and on February 5, official word came that Lautner had signed on to star as the rubbery seventies action figure. For a brief time, it seemed as though the 18-year-old Lautner might make both Max Steel and Stretch Armstrong.
But in the weeks after signing on to play Steel, Lautner became increasingly convinced that Hasbro was playing its hand better than Mattel. Thanks to WME, Hasbro was moving with far greater speed through Hollywood’s development maze than Mattel, not only setting up projects, but quickly moving them forward: At Universal, Imagine Entertainment Über-producer Brian Grazer was working to get Stretch made into a 3-D movie by 2012; Candy Land had a script from Tropic Thunder screenwriter Etan Cohen, with Enchanted director Kevin Lima aiming for a 2011 release; Hancock’s Peter Berg would direct Battleship next year; and Will Smith and James Lassiter were producing Risk at Sony’s Columbia Pictures. And that wasn’t even counting Hasbro’s recent successes with Transformers and G.I. Joe — both of which were directed by WME clients, Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers, respectively. Explained one insider familiar with Lautner’s decision: “When you sign up to make a movie with Hasbro, you know it will be in theaters a year later.”
Mattel, by contrast, has made little progress in Hollywood, seemingly by choice. Last March, Universal announced that Tom Hanks would be developing a project based on the even-less-well-known sixties Mattel action figure Major Matt Mason (he was an astronaut who lived on the moon, for those of you under 50), but little else appears percolating.
As a result, by the time Universal had begun conversations earlier this month with Monsters vs. Aliens director Rob Letterman about directing Stretch Armstrong, Lautner had already decided not to do Max Steel.
Which is also why when Lautner showed up at the American International Toy Fair industry convention in New York City on February 16, he was photographed extensively horsing around with Hasbro’s new Nerf Raider Blaster in Hasbro’s hospitality suite — even though, under the very same roof, Mattel was debuting its new Taylor Lautner doll, tied to his Twilight character, Jacob Black.