Could Houdini Role Be the Magic Johnny Depp Needs?

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Johnny Depp is reportedly in talks to portray magician Harry Houdini in an upcoming film from Lionsgate/Summit based on the book The Secret Life of Harry Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter. The publication said that Red 2 director Dean Parisot will direct the film and that the screenplay was adapted from the book by Noah Oppenheim. Depp’s producing partner at Infinitum Nihil, Christi Dembrowski, is also in negotiations to produce the film.

The Hollywood Reporter said the movie would be in the vein of Indiana Jones and portray Houdini less as a magical figure and more as a hero bent on disproving the popular fad of Spiritualism — a belief system in which certain people, mediums, were believed to have the ability to speak to the dead and charged their believers great sums to access those talents. Houdini’s battle with Spiritualists and in particular his former friend the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the focus of Kalush and Sloman’s book.

Houdini dedicated much time and energy to debunking Spiritualism, a task that threatened his legacy after his death as the occult fad’s passionate, rich, and powerful followers tried to debunk Houdini himself after his death. Houdini spoke about his work disproving those who claimed the ability to communicate with the dead in his book A Magician Among the Spirits. The iconic magician inspired future magicians to undertake the same venture. Training in magic allowed magicians to more clearly see the tricks spiritualists used to convince people they were speaking to the dead.

This would be interesting material to see Depp tackle. The actor is coming off some recent box office and critical disappointments. The science fiction film Transcendence completely bombed when it was released over the Easter weekend, taking in just $10.8 million during its opening and receiving just a 19 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Venerable Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers even went so far as to call Transcendenceone of the biggest disappointments of the year.” Before that was Disney’s The Lone Ranger, which also performed poorly at the box office and with critics.

The sequel to Tim Burton’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, in which Depp will reprise his role as the Mad Hatter, is in pre-production, and the the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean films has also been announced, both of which will likely be strong box office contenders but probably won’t please critics. Depp is considered to be one of the best actors of his generation, but most of his recent choices have been disappointing to fans of his earlier, more experimental work in movies like Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The Houdini film is more likely to give Depp an opportunity to experiment and play a role different from the blockbuster sequels on his plate. Other upcoming films from the actor include the film adaptation of the Sondheim fairytale musical Into the Woods, in which he plays The Wolf, and the action-comedy Mortdecai, based on the crime novels The Mortdecai Trilogy, in which he plays an art dealer seeking to recover a stolen painting that contains the secret code to a bank account containing Nazi gold.

Depp is currently filming the crime drama Black Mass about the collaboration between the Irish mob and the FBI to take down their common enemy, the Italian mafia. Depp will play Irish mob boss Whitey Bulger and Benedict Cumberbatch will play his brother Bill.

The Houdini film Depp is reportedly in talks to do isn’t the only movie inspired by the magician in the works. The trailer for Woody Allen’s upcoming film Magic in the Moonlight was released last week, and while it’s not explicitly based on Houdini’s life, it does tell the story of a magician, played by Colin Firth, attempting to debunk a Spiritualist medium, played by Emma Stone — but rather than disproving her abilities, he ends up falling in love with her. That movie is set to hit theaters July 25.

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