Why ‘Death on the Nile’ is ‘every publicist’s worst nightmare’
“Death on the Nile” promises a stylish, star-packed journey — but Disney has found itself up the creek without a paddle because of the new film, opening Friday.
Costing more than $160 million, it is surely the most awkward film release in recent memory as several of the stars have either been canceled or the subjects of mockery and derision.
“This film has become every publicist’s worst nightmare,” said an industry source. “It’s a project where everything which can go wrong has gone wrong — and there’s nothing to be done or said to make it better.”
Variety magazine reported that the predicament has become a talking point for showbiz agents and rival studio executives, observing: “It does not take a Poirot-level detective to see the public relations nightmare Disney is faced with.”
First, there is Armie Hammer, who stars as playboy Simon Doyle in the adaptation of the 1937 Agatha Christie novel. He was accused of rape and cannibalistic desires back in January 2021.
Letitia Wright — known for “Black Panther” and cast here as grumpy Rosalie Otterbourne — has espoused what many perceived to be anti-vaccine statements.
Ditto Russell Brand, who has the role of Dr. Ludwig Bessner.
And then there is Gal Gadot as heiress Linnet Ridgeway. She squandered her “Wonder Woman” popularity with the tone-deaf “Imagine” video she arranged at the start of the pandemic. (Gadot has since realized it was “in poor taste.“)
Naturally, social media has been alight with people mocking Disney’s misfortune.
“It’s finally happening! February 11th starring a cannibal, a apologist for ethnic cleansing and not one but two anti-vaxxers oh and Sir Ken in a funny moustache!” tweeted @Psychotronicci1.
“#DeathOnTheNile director. “We need the most problematic people in Hollywood or this movie won’t work. We definitely need an antivaxxer who shut down another production, we need the girl that got celebrities to sing ‘Imagine’ from their mansions, and we ABSOLUTELY need a cannibal,” tweeted @QuarantineMaria.
The film had a press tour, completed at the end of 2020, but Disney did not schedule a new one around the delayed release, as happened with the Bond film “No Time To Die.” Publicists at the company declined to comment as to why.
“Nobody wants to talk about the film,” said another industry source. “Kenneth Branagh is out and about talking about ‘Belfast’ and the Oscars and won’t say a word about ‘Nile.’”
And while every other major character has an individual character poster, there isn’t one of Hammer. He was also not present for a cast photo call at the British Museum on Wednesday.
The film was greenlit in 2017 and filmed in the fall of 2019.
Then, in January 2020, the Instagram account @houseofeffie started to publish messages which it said had been sent by Hammer.
One read: “I want to eat you … I am 100% a cannibal.” Others talked about eating a woman’s ribs and cutting off her toes.
As the scandal grew, the actor’s ex Paige Lorenze claimed Hammer had carved an “A” into her skin using a knife. The woman behind the Instagram account, Effie Angelnova, held a televised press conference with lawyer Gloria Allred at which she accused Hammer of violent rape and physical abuse during a four-year affair.
Hammer called the allegations “bulls–t,” with his lawyer Andrew Brettler adding: “All interactions between Mr. Hammer and his former partners were consensual. They were fully discussed, agreed upon in advance with his partners, and mutually participatory.”
The Los Angeles Police Department investigated the rape accusation, but no charges have been brought.
Nonetheless, Hammer was dropped by his talent agency and his publicist, and also fired from the high-profile films “Shotgun Wedding” and “The Offer.”
With the scandal raging, the planned original release of Death on the Nile in April 2021 was scrapped. It’s been moved around six times, mainly due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in December 2020, “Black Panther” co-star Wright shared an anti-vaccination video on Twitter alongside a prayer-hands emoji. The video, from Light London Church leader Tomi Arayomi, blamed China for the pandemic and discouraged people from getting COVID-19 vaccinations.
Wright later deleted the post but also said: “Raised my concerns with what the vaccine contains and what we are putting in our bodies.”
Her “Avengers: Endgame” co-star Don Cheadle called the video “hot garbage” and Wright deleted her social media accounts.
In October 2021 the Hollywood Reporter said that the actress had been voicing anti-vax views on the set of the “Black Panther” sequel, “Wakanda Forever,” and added that she had been dropped by her US agent. Wright denied promoting anti-vax views.
Brand has had his own flirtation with anti-vaxxers via his rambling videos on YouTube, with titles like “Can we REALLY Trust Vaccine Fact Checkers” and “Covid Vaccine — Skepticism or Trust.”
“‘I’m certainly by no means saying ‘Don’t take a vaccine,’ neither am I saying ‘Do take a vaccine,’” Brand has said, adding that he is worried about “government authority” trumping “personal liberties.”
“Disney considered several options when the accusations broke regarding Hammer including reshooting the movie with a new actor replacing Hammer, according to a source,” reported Pamela McClintock in The Hollywood Reporter. “But that wasn’t feasible for a film of this scale, because of the pandemic and the ensemble cast.
And so the film sails on. Who knows — perhaps it will do as well as 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which earned more than $350 million globally at the box office, despite star Johnny Depp being accused of domestic violence by his then-wife Amber Heard as part of their incredibly messy divorce.
Maybe there’s no such thing as bad press. Hammer, for one, certainly hopes so.
A close friend of Hammer’s told The Post that the actor is actually planning his Hollywood revival off the film: “He will be coming back to his acting career in due course.”