Depp Plans Film About Poisoned Spy

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LONDON — Johnny Depp is making a film about a former Russian spy whose poisoning death in London has touched off an international mystery, the trade magazine Variety reported.

Warner Bros. has bought the rights to a book about Alexander Litvinenko for Depp's production company, Infinitum Nihil, the magazine reported Friday. Depp will produce the film and could star in it, the report said.

Warner Bros. is racing against director Michael Mann and Columbia Pictures, which has agreed to pay $1.5 million for the rights to another book being co-written by the former spy's widow Marina Litvinenko, and Alex Goldfarb, a close friend, Variety reported later on its Web site. The book is expected to be published in May by Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint, the report said.

Warner Bros. had tried unsuccessfully to buy the rights to the book by Litvinenko's widow, the report said. The studio has acquired the rights to a book by New York Times journalist Alan Cowell, which is expected to be published next year by Doubleday.

Officials from both studios were not immediately available for comment.

Mann is known for his crime sagas, including Collateral, Heat and Miami Vice, while 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.

Litvinenko died in November, several weeks after being poisoned by the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210. In a deathbed statement, Litvinenko blamed the Kremlin for his poisoning. Russian officials have denied that allegation.

British and Russian authorities are both investigating his death.

Litvinenko was an agent in the Russian Federal Security Service, the agency that replaced the KGB. After breaking with the agency he was granted asylum in Britain, where he became a fierce Kremlin critic and wrote a book claiming that the FSB had bombed apartment buildings in 1999 to blame the blasts on Chechen separatists and create a pretext for resuming the war in Chechnya.

Litvinenko said he fell ill after meeting in London with an Italian security expert to discuss possible suspects in the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya a month earlier. Politkovskaya was noted for her coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya.