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Jackson told me today that despite his cameo as the hard-bitten military man at the end of "Iron Man," it now appears that "somebody else will be Nick Fury or maybe Nick Fury won’t be in it" when it comes to "Iron Man 2," "The First Avenger: Captain America" and "The Avengers," the announced slate of Marvel Studios projects through 2011 that might have a natural spot for the character.
Jackson, who is a fanboy favorite after roles in three "Star Wars" films, "The Incredibles" and "Unbreakable," was actually used as the model for the Ultimate Marvel version of Fury, which took the white, grizzled, aging commando with salt-and-pepper hair and re-imagined him as a younger, bald African American. There were cheers in theaters at the end of "Iron Man," when Jackson appeared as Fury, but when I asked the actor about it today he shook his head.
"I saw [‘Iron Man’ and ‘Iron Man 2′ director] Jon Favreau at the Scream Awards and we had a conversation. He said, ‘I hope things are working out for you because we’re writing stuff for you.’ Then all of a sudden last week I talked to my agents and manager and things aren’t really working that well."
Jackson might just have been taking a public position that could lead to a bigger payday (it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Hollywood star used an interview as a negotiating tactic) but he seemed especially sour on the whole the topic of working with Marvel …
"There was a huge kind of negotiation that broke down. I don’t know. Maybe I won’t be Nick Fury. Maybe somebody else will be Nick Fury or maybe Nick Fury won’t be in it. There seems to be an economic crisis in the Marvel Comics world so [they’re saying to me], ‘We’re not making that deal.’"
I called Marvel Comics and they gave me a statement that suggested that they still want to see Jackson wearing the eyepatch. "Marvel does not comment on active negotiations," was the boilerplate response, but there was that emphasis on the word "active" in the voice of the spokesman who phoned me back.
Marvel Studios only has two films under its belt, "Iron Man" (which finished as the second-highest grossing film of 2008) and "The Incredible Hulk" but executives with the Hollywood upstart have high hopes for creating a new model of unified, character-crossover films that would mirror the spirit of the Marvel Comics in the 1960s, when heroes and villains collided constantly in the various comics titles and firmed up the concept of "the Marvel Universe." One challenge to that will be keeping a good number of movie stars happy with the roles and their paychecks.
Terrence Howard, who by some reports was the first actor signed to "Iron Man" and the highest-paid actor in the cast, won’t be back for the sequel (Don Cheadle is taking his place as the key supporting character Rhodey and his alter ego War Machine) and money seems to have been part of the issue. Marvel execs essentially have to weigh each film’s budget with the calculating eye of pro-sports franchises who want marquee players but have to fit them under a team salary cap. A publicly traded company, Marvel has a stated goal of keeping shareholders happy with a rigid allegiance to the bottom line. And Marvel’s stock has held up far better than shares of most of its larger rivals over the last year. Helped by the lift from "Iron Man" in spring, Marvel Entertainment shares actually rose for the year, gaining 15% to close 2008 at $30.75. That was an amazing feat, considering that more than 90% of all U.S. stocks fell last year. By contrast, Walt Disney shares slid 30% in 2008, Viacom Inc. plunged 57% and Time Warner fell 39%. So far this year, Marvel is down 5.5%, Disney is down 6.6%, Viacom is off 8.1% and Time Warner is down 2.5%.
Think of the challenge to Marvel to put its crossover dream on the screen: For "The Avengers," that means putting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Edward Norton as Hulk, Cheadle, whoever plays Thor and whoever plays Captain America all in the same movie. How much room (and money) would be left for a supporting character like Jackson as Fury? Still, like I told the actor, he has a big advantage on his side: Who else wants to wear that patch, especially since the character is based on Jackson? Jackson laughed. "Maybe nobody will wear it. Maybe they’ll decide Nick Fury won’t be part of it."
– Geoff Boucher
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Photo of Samuel L. Jackson by Francois Durand/Getty Images, Nick Fury image courtesy of Marvel.