Byline: by Maureen Culley
IT was a crushing blow with the power to reduce even the most experienced film director to a crumbling heap.
Everything had been going so well for Kevin Macdonald - still basking in the success of his previous movie, The Last King of Scotland.
Filming on his first Hollywood blockbuster was just days away and Brad Pitt had signed up to the starring role. But then came the bombshell news - Pitt had pulled out, leaving the Scots director without a leading man and placing the bigbudget, silver-screen version of the acclaimed BBC series State of Play in jeopardy.
Now Macdonald has spoken for the first time of the tumult of those few days where he was forced to fly to the Australian outback in a desperate bid to woo A-lister Russell Crowe as the replacement.
The movie went on general release yesterday, with Crowe costarring alongside Helen Mirren and Ben Affleck, but the Glasgowborn director admits the process of getting it made 'was very tricky'.
Pitt had developed the script and agreed to play the lead role of dishevelled veteran reporter Cal McAffrey, in the movie that tells the story of a team of journalists who endeavour to solve the puzzling death of a congressman's mistress.
The US actor had been impressed by Macdonald's drama-documentary, Touching the Void, and all seemed rosy. But after a series of rumblings, Pitt rolled up to the set on his Harley Davidson one afternoon and the pair argued. If Macdonald would not do it Pitt's way, the big Hollywood star would quit.
But Macdonald stuck to his guns - and waved Pitt goodbye.
'Brad walked out less than a week before shooting was meant to start,' the 41-year-old Scot reveals.
'I think he didn't like that it was such a thriller and we had the classic "creative disagreement".'
It was November 2007 and the timing could not have been worse, as all the other roles had been cast, the $10.5million set had been constructed and a team of technicians assembled. With the writers' strike looming and many films wrapping up, many would have struggled to find other work.
Macdonald says of Pitt's 11thhour withdrawal: 'He was fairly good, as movie stars go, about doing his own dirty work - he could have got his agent to do it. But we met up and he said he didn't want to do the film now, he wanted to do it in six months, and he didn't want to use the script - and I did.
'I had invested a lot of time on this picture, I liked the script - and so I pushed ahead. Universal were fantastic and said: "Okay, we'll stick by this movie, who else do you want?" I said: "Well, Russell Crowe is the best of the A-list actors, let's see if he's interested." 'So they sent him a script and two days later he sent me an email saying he was intrigued but, if I wanted to talk more, I had to go and see him in Australia.
'Russell got his mate, who is a helicopter pilot, to come pick me up and fly me out to the family ranch. Then, when we met up, we went for a long walk around his land inspecting the cattle and talking about the movie.
'I didn't know if he would agree. It was a difficult position for him, as an actor of his calibre, because he's stepping into a dead man's shoes.
It was a big deal in Hollywood when Brad pulled out. There were threats of legal suits.
'But Russell had liked the script, he'd watched my movies and liked Touching the Void. So that night I had dinner - some prime Russell Crowe ranch steaks - with him and his family, and stayed over. He said: "I'll talk to you in the morning."'
But when Macdonald rose early next morning to catch his flight to Los Angeles, he was disappointed to learn that Crowe was still asleep: 'I thought: "Well, he can't be that interested." His mother offered to drive me back to the airport and I said: "Maybe I should bang on his bedroom door for a quick chat."
She said: "I wouldn't do that if I were you! …