EXCLUSIVE: Ridley Scott always said he would return to the Colosseum to continue the story of his blockbuster epic Gladiator, and it looks like we are getting close to having that wish granted. Sources tell Deadline that Normal People star Paul Mescal is in negotiations to lead the Paramount sequel to the Oscar-winning pic, with Scott returning to the directing chair. Scott also will produce, along with Scott Free President Michael Pruss as well as Doug Wick & Lucy Fisher via Red Wagon Entertainment. David Scarpa penned the script.
Also returning from the original film are costume designer Janty Yates and production designer Arthur Max. The first film was co-production between Universal and DreamWorks, and while DreamWorks will not be involved in the sequel, Universal has the right to partner again when the project is packaged.
The new film follows the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator, which earned over $460M in worldwide box office and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning five including Best Picture.
The role of Maximus, the Roman general-turned-gladiator, was a career-changer for Russell Crowe when he played the part in the summer of 2000. It not only delivered him a Best Actor Oscar but launched him to the top of every leading-man list, and once it was made clear last year that the sequel would be Scott’s next movie, every male actor in town that fit the profile began chasing the coveted part.
Meetings with Scott for the role began to heat up once a final draft was delivered in November, with Mescal being one of the first to sit down with the director. Although Scott continued to meet with other talent, insiders say it seemed clear to all involved that Mescal clearly was Scott’s top choice following a fantastic meeting between the two. By landing the role, Mescal not only gets to show off the strong range that earned him an Emmy nomination for his work on Normal People but also the physique the industry already had taken notice of that is needed to play the role. Crowe famously put on some serious muscle for the part, and Mescal will look to do the same.
Mescal won’t be replacing Crowe’s Maximus, whose character met his end in the original film, but instead he will be playing Lucius, the son of Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), who now is a grown man as the story takes place years after the first film ended. Lucius also was the nephew of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of Roman leader Marcus Aurelius, who murdered his father seized the throne. Commodus wound up in the gladiator ring with Maximus — who, though mortally wounded, skewered the emperor before fading into the great beyond to reunite with his slain wife and son. Maximus saved the boy and his mother while avenging his own family, and left a strong impression on the young Lucius.
While Scott has hinted at wanting to continue the story going all the way back to when the original was still in theaters, the project gained steam in 2018, when Deadline first broke that Paramount came on to develop. As Scott was finishing up directing another period epic Napoleon — which, coincidentally, reunited him with Crowe’s Gladiator co-star Phoenix, who is playing French Commander Napoleon Bonaparte in that pic — he began to give indications his desire to make Gladiator 2 his next film, and by the end of the summer he indicated to Paramount that it likely would be his next film.
Even after being in development for as long as it has, Paramount’s top brass did everything in their power to make sure this wasn’t just another project that stayed in development purgatory. While Mescal’s deal is not closed, the studio now has its star, and all the hard work signals a return to the arena in a big way for all parties.
Best known his breakout role in the Hulu limited series Normal People, which earned him an Emmy nomination, Mescal hasn’t rushed to find that big studio job but rather his took his time and was particular in the material he went after. That decision has led to a big year for the rising star that included a number of films bowing at the Cannes Film Festival including God’s Creatures. He also has been receiving strong reviews for Aftersun, which is currently a contender this award season.
Next up for him is the Garth Davis pic Foe, which also stars Saorise Ronan. He is repped by CAA and the Curtis Brown Group.