Black Mass star Benedict Cumberbatch has come attached to star in The War Magician, a fact-based World War II thriller that is being written by Book Of Eli scribe Gary Whitta from David Fisher’s fact-based book. Cumberbatch will play Jasper Maskelyne, a world famous magician who turned his skills toward creating sleight-of-hand stunts that fooled the Nazis and helped Allied fighting forces.
The project is being mounted with funding from Studiocanal (which will distribute in its home territories) and the producers are Storyscape Entertainment’s Bob Cooper and Richard Saperstein, Tony Eldridge’s Lonetree Entertainment and SunnyMarch’s Adam Ackland and Adam Selves. SunnyMarch is Cumberbatch’s production company.
Maskelyne and his exploits have long caught the fancy of Hollywood actors; Tom Cruise was once attached to play him in a feature for Paramount that never fully conjured. Maskelyne put together a dirty dozen-type coterie of illusionists called The Magic Gang. Among other stunts, they created fake tanks and soldiers to give the illusion of troop movement to Nazi spy planes overhead. They used mirrors to shield machine gun nests, disguised tanks as supply trucks, and even managed to create illusions that concealed sites like the Alexandria harbor and Suez Canal, to keep Luftwaffe bombers from blowing them up. Maskelyne’s stunts vexed Gen.Rommel and his unstoppable forces in North Africa and gave the Brits a fighting chance using what the master magician termed “the mass production of tricks, swindles and devices.”
It’s Cumberbatch’s second recent undertaking in sleight-of-hand stuff. He stars as the title character in the Scott Derrickson-directed Doctor Strange, playing the former surgeon who is taken under wing by a sorcerer to save the world. Disney releases the film November 16, 2016.
UTA arranged the funding and the package and the plan is to shoot in Europe and the Middle East. The deal positions Studiocanal for another Cumberbatch vehicle. Said Studiocanal International EVP production Ron Halpern: “Both Imitation Game and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were phenomenal successes for Studio Canal, and we are thrilled to be in business with Benedict Cumberbatch on this extraordinary project.”
Cumberbatch is repped by UTA and John Grant in the UK.