Universal bosses were willing to take a massive hit on producer Brian Grazer's film American Gangster because they were terrified of the director he hired.

The movie mogul had Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro attached to the drama, and had no idea studio executives were so scared of the unnamed moviemaker he had tasked with directing the film, they were willing to walk away from the project and accept a $33 million (£26.5 million) loss.

"That would've been the biggest loss in the history of films that had never been made," Grazer said. "It was heartbreaking. I thought, 'I can't forget American Gangster and I'm gonna build a better case.'"

So, he urged Denzel to stay with the project, asked Ridley Scott to take over as director, and then went after Russell Crowe.

"I said, 'You and (screenwriter) Steve Zaillian can work on the role and enrich it, but I need your absolute commitment.'

"I was able to reunite these guys (Crowe and his Gladiator director) on something that was an absolute no from Universal. I turned it and them around and made the movie and everybody was proud of it."

American Gangster, based on the life of gangster Frank Lucas, was released in 2000 and went on to make over $266 million (£214 million) at the global box office from a $100 million (£80 million) budget.