- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

LONDON (AP) — Johnny Depp is planning a film about a former Russian security agent whose poisoning in London has touched off an international mystery, according to the trade magazine Variety — one of three possible Hollywood projects about the case.

One of the other projects, involving the director Michael Mann, came after Columbia Pictures agreed to pay $1.5 million for the film rights to a book about the former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, being co-written by his widow and a close friend, the report said.

Warner Bros. — which was outbid for that book — acquired the rights to a book by Alan Cowell, a New York Times reporter, and Doubleday is expected to publish it next year, Variety said. Mr. Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil, will produce the film and the actor could star in it.

Mr. Mann is known for his crime sagas such as “Collateral,” “Heat” and “Miami Vice,” while Mr. Depp often takes on eccentric character roles in films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Finding Neverland” and “Edward Scissorhands.”

The report said Columbia envisions an espionage thriller “exploring the collision between the deep-rooted Russian power structure enforced by the KGB … and the new wave of Wild West capitalism” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Variety said.

The book that will serve as the movie’s main source is expected to be published in May by Simon & Schuster’s Free Press imprint, the report said.

Braun Entertainment Group, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., said yesterday it had bought an option on film rights for a third potential project — based on Mr. Litvinenko’s own book “Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within.”

Braun, which previously produced “Freedom Road,” a movie starring Muhammad Ali, said it was in talks with Mr. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, for its own project.

The former security agent’s book was published in 2004 with financial support from the self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky. It charged that the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB — an agency that replaced the KGB — was behind bombings at Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people. The Kremlin blamed the attacks on Chechen separatists.

Mr. Litvinenko fled to Britain, was granted asylum and became a Kremlin critic in exile. The former FSB agent died in November, several weeks after falling ill with what was later determined to be poisoning by the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

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