Denzel Washington and Ridley Scott in the Paramount sequel to Gladiator

EXCLUSIVE: Nearly 16 years ago, Denzel Washington and Ridley Scott wowed audiences with their hit crime drama american gangster, and now it looks like the two A-listers are ready to get back together in a big way. Sources tell Deadline that Washington is in final negotiations to star in Scott’s sequel to his Oscar-winning best picture gladiator for Paramount.

Paul Mescal is on board to star alongside Washington, while Scott returns to the director’s chair.

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Scott will also produce with Scott Free President Michael Pruss and Doug Wick & Lucy Fisher through Red Wagon Entertainment. The screenplay is by David Scarpa.

Costume designer Janty Yates and production designer Arthur Max are also returning from the original film.

The first film was a co-production between Universal and DreamWorks, and while DreamWorks will not be involved in the sequel, Universal has the right to collaborate again once the project is complete.

Russell Crowe in 2000's Gladiator

Russell Crowe in 2000’s Gladiator

Once Mescal was banned from the project, Scott and Brian Robbins, presidents and CEOs of Paramount Pictures, and co-presidents Daria Cercek and Michael Ireland pushed hard for a star for the film’s other lead, shooting with Washington, the two-time Academy Award winner. When the offer was first presented, there was skepticism that he would actually do it; Washington is known for its good taste in projects and doesn’t sign up for anything. But after reading the script, sources close to the project said he was excited for the hard-hitting role Scott wrote for him.

Meeting Scott soon followed, and after the director gave his pitch, Washington was all but on board.

The new film follows the 2000 blockbuster gladiatorwhich has grossed more than $460 million at the box office worldwide and has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture.

The role of Maximus, the Roman general-turned-gladiator, was a career change for Russell Crowe that not only earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor, but also put him at the top of any leading actor list. When it became clear last year that the sequel would be Scott’s next film, every male actor in town who fit the profile began chasing the role.

Mescal will not replace Crowes Maximus, whose character died in the original film. Instead, he plays Lucius, son of Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), as a grown man, since the story takes place years after the end of the first film. Lucius was also the nephew of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of the Roman leader Marcus Aurelius, who assassinated his father and ascended the throne. Commodus ended up in the gladiator ring with Maximus who, although mortally wounded, impaled the Emperor before disappearing into the far afterlife to be reunited with his slain wife and son. Maximus saved Lucius and Lucilla while avenging his own family and made a strong impression on the boy.

Washington’s role is being kept under wraps.

'American Gangster'

‘American Gangster’

Washington has always had strong ties not only to Ridley but also to the Scott family, who starred in several of Ridley’s late brother Tony’s films before his death in 2012. After working on Tony Scott thrillers like Crimson Tide And man on fire, Washington eventually teamed up with Ridley Scott for the 2007 crime thriller american gangster (ironically Crowe also starred in this film). It was a box office hit, and for years Washington and Scott have been looking for the next big thing to team up on.

Washington was last seen in his Oscar-nominated roles in Apple and A24 The Tragedy of Macbeth. He is next seen in the third equalizer Film for Sony bowing later this year. It will be repeated by WME.

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