Peter S. Davis, the producer behind the cult film “Highlander,” died this past weekend at his home in Calabasas, California, at the age of 79.
Davis was key to the creation of the hit 1986 film, having discovered the initial screenplay written by Gregory Widen while he was a student at UCLA. Davis gathered the team behind the film, including financing from studio Thorn EMI. But the biggest get for Davis was the casting of the late Sean Connery as Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, the immortal warrior who welcomes Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod into the battle among immortals to gain an unknown but powerful prize.
“The Highlander” struggled when it was first released, but began to gain a cult following in Europe and later in the U.S. when it was released on VHS. Soon, the mantra “there can be only one” became a part of pop culture, with MacLeod becoming a star-making role for Lambert.
The film also started a career resurgence for Connery in the late 80s alongside his Oscar-winning performance in “The Untouchables” and his turn as Indiana Jones’ father in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” His performance as a mentor figure in “Highlander” would become a type of role Connery would play several more times in the final years of his career, most notably in the 2000 Gus Van Sant film “Finding Forrester.”
“Everyone told me there was no chance in the world I’d get Sean Connery,” Davis said in a 2016 interview. “I talked to his agents at the time, and they said, ‘Davis, just make an offer…you know he’s a very well-paid actor. Make an offer.’ I offered $300,000 for one week’s work. They told me I was far off the mark. But then, I upped the ante from $500,000 to $700,000. Still nothing. So finally, his agents said, ‘Peter, we like nice round numbers.’ So we offered a million. That got the script to Sean. We immediately heard back that he enjoyed the piece if he got to make certain changes to broaden the role. We finally settled on the million for the week’s work.”
Under Davis’ guidance, “Highlander” soon spawned five sequel films — including an anime spinoff — and a hit TV series that ran from 1992-1998. At the time of his death, Davis was pushing forward a “Highlander” reboot at Lionsgate with “John Wick” filmmaker Chad Stahelski attached to direct.
Before “Highlander,” Davis got his start in Hollywood in 1977 after leaving behind life as a Wall Street lawyer. Among the films he produced include Brad Pitt’s debut film “Cutting Class,” Joe Pesci’s debut film “Family Business,” and Sam Peckinpah’s final feature film “Osterman Weekend.”
Davis is survived by his son, Joshua — who will step in as producer for the still-developing “Highlander” reboot — along with his wife Katia, his sister, Vida, his daughter, Danielle, and two grandchildren.