The British film entrepreneur Donna Langley wants to launch Tom Cruise into space.

At Universal in Los Angeles, Donna Langley spoke with Katie Razzall of the BBC.

British Film Executive who wants to send Tom Cruise to Space

One of Donna Langley’s many goals is to launch Tom Cruise into space.

She is the first British woman to head a significant American film company, serving as chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.

She now ranks among the most influential personalities in Hollywood. Not bad for an Isle of Wight-born British woman who moved to Los Angeles in her early 20s without any connections to the film industry.

Langley, now a Dame after thirty years, claims that she still identifies as “culturally quite English, even though my accent flits in and out a little bit.”

She does appear to be from the Isle of Wight rather than the United Kingdom, but as we ride in a golf cart around the Universal Studios lot, she reassures me that she still enjoys Marmite sandwiches and crisps.

Langley has improved Universal’s financial situation and has guided the oldest still operating US film company through both the challenges of a pandemic and the emergence of streaming services.

She is impressive and grounded, but the venture that Universal is working on with Cruise is truly extraordinary.

According to Langley, Cruise intends to launch himself to the International Space Station. The movie’s story “really takes place on earth, and then the guy needs to travel up to space to rescue the day,” according to Cruise and filmmaker Doug Liman’s pitch to her on Zoom during the epidemic.

Tom Cruise and NASA team up to make a space movie.
There is optimism that Cruise will be “the first civilian to perform a spacewalk outside of the space station,” she continues.

The space movie is still obviously a goal for Universal at this point.

British Film Executive who wants to send Tom Cruise to Space

The 44 films that have been confirmed for release in 2022–2023 are more concrete, as the industry strives to return to pre–Covid levels.

There will be the highly successful franchise veterans (among them another Trolls movie; the 10th Fast and Furious, shot in the UK; and then Despicable Me 4 in 2024). But there is also creative freedom.

Steven Spielberg was courted by Langley’s to return to the studio where he worked on Jaws and ET. The Toronto Film Festival recently held the world premiere of The Fabelmans. After leaving Warner Bros. for Langley, Christopher Nolan will release Oppenheimer through Universal.

Carey Mulligan plays one of the journalists who exposed the Harvey Weinstein crisis in the upcoming film She Said.

She tells me in a detailed interview for BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show that she uses “gut sense” to determine which movie pitches would succeed. It’s about “feeling the tale on a very personal level,” she says, rather than rationalising choices through the perspective of a commercial model.

Her unique selling point is partly a result of her early career knowing how to “create pictures that were aimed at a certain audience,” frequently people who Hollywood has typically disregarded. She discovered that, for instance, films geared for women or people of colour “decent business. The films are extremely profitable because their earnings are disproportionate to their production costs.”

British Film Executive who wants to send Tom Cruise to Space

She promoted Straight Outta Compton, a movie that made $201 million at international box offices and chronicled the rise of the hip-hop group NWA.

She was renowned for championing Mamma Mia while others weren’t interested. The movie, which was based on Abba’s discography, was a huge success, grossing $600 million worldwide.

“I didn’t consider these movies to be intrinsically hazardous. When the evidence is in front of us, it’s simple for me to declare that as I sit here with you today.”

Although others may not have noticed it, Langley saw a pattern in his achievement. They were universal tales that all audiences could identify with.

Director of Mamma Mia Phyllida Lloyd praised Langley’s “clarity and tranquilly.” The Universal executive, she claimed to me, “a methodical technique. She didn’t really worry about little things.”

Langley is “hugely revered,” according to Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of The Wrap, one of Hollywood’s most significant journals. Of course, not every movie is a success, and Waxman mentions Bros, Universal’s homosexual rom-com, and its underwhelming opening weekend. They are the first significant studio to release a film of this nature.

But she praises her for taking chances. For instance, “is not a movie that every studio would select to green light,” according to She Said.

admirer of ABBA.

Langley claims that a significant aspect of her youth on the Isle of Wight was storytelling (along with Abba). She was adopted when she was a baby, and her original father was Egyptian. Her father worked for the Civil Aviation Authority, while her mother was an activist who “had me shaking a can on behalf of Greenpeace or CND on the local main street.”

The family didn’t frequently go to the movies, but she recalls her sister taking her to see a movie about an Abba concert in the 1970s (which was “90 minutes of heaven, I was so happy”). Instead, the family read a lot, which may have drawn her to movies.

British Film Executive who wants to send Tom Cruise to Space

Brits, she claims, “grow up with a great appreciation of books.” “My imagination would go wild with the history of the place, whether it was smugglers or aristocrats,” said a man who was free to travel the Isle of Wight.

She quips arrogantly that because of her heritage, she was considered “exotic” on the island, and she continues, “It gave me a sense of independence.” She claims that she had “a little bit of bullying” in school and that using humour helped her get through the “tougher situations.”

So how did that young person get so famous in Hollywood? Although Langley “had no idea I was going to work in cinema,” she admitted to me that she “didn’t see a future” for herself in the UK in the early 1990s. “I definitely have moments when I look back and wonder how did it all happen,” she acknowledges.

When Langley, then only 22 years old, travelled to Los Angeles with a letter of introduction to a literary agent, she had only intended to remain a few months. However, she “caught the bug” and “realised I had to stay.” She described the US as “less restricted,” saying that in contrast to Britain, which was highly hierarchical, “if you have an idea and a work ethic, you can make it.”

While employed at a nightclub on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, she had her first break. She was employed by one of the regulars at New Line Cinema.

Although she acknowledges that the Hollywood of the time wasn’t “for the faint of heart, you had to have some chutzpah,” she attributes her success to “a little bit of deluded self-belief” and a lot of hard work.

Langley is dedicated to producing British movies. The first Hollywood blockbuster to continue production during the pandemic was Universal’s Jurassic World Dominion, which was filmed at Pinewood Studios. Production on Wicked will shortly begin in the UK.

She is “one of the most successful British executives in the business,” according to Ben Roberts, CEO of the BFI, and “we’re happy that Universal has decided to base so many of their films here in the UK.”

British Film Executive who wants to send Tom Cruise to Space

Langley recognises that home movie streaming is here to stay despite the fact that the future of cinema is still uncertain. When she made the decision to immediately upload Universal’s brand-new Trolls film to a streaming service during the pandemic, she aroused the wrath of movie theatre chains. It was a “watershed moment,” according to her. It undoubtedly ended the custom of huge films opening first in theatres.

The main problems now facing Langley, in Waxman’s opinion, are “to replenish Universal’s pipeline with the kinds of blockbusters, like the Fast and Furious trilogy, that can create billion-dollar worldwide hits.”

What will draw customers back into theatres is what Langley refers to as the “$100 billion question.” She acknowledges that they fall under the category of “huge visual effects movies, but what else?”

She has a use-it-or-lose-it message despite the fact that “the bar is getting higher” on the kinds of movies people will leave their home to view.

“It really does need that theatrical experience,” she asserts, “to make movies meaningful, to make them connect with the cultural zeitgeist, to generate movie stars and to establish directors and careers.”

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