Par plucks leading man for ‘Sahara’

Actioner first pic to be based on Cussler's Pitt character

Paramount has tapped Matthew McConaughey to topline “Sahara,” a potential action-adventure franchise.

Studio is in negotiations with the thesp to star in the Crusader Entertainment production with lensing expected to begin in the fall. Crusader announced nearly a year ago that it had greenlit an adaptation of “Sahara” as the first film to be based on the Dirk Pitt character in Clive Cussler’s best-selling novels.

Cussler’s “Sahara” focuses on McConaughey’s character thwarting an attempted assassination of a U.N. scientist investigating a raging epidemic in North Africa that threatens to extinguish life in the world’s seas.

Crusader signed a three-year, first-look U.S. distribution deal with Par in 2001. Par agreed last year to distribute “Sahara” stateside and in the U.K., Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.

McConaughey’s deal would represent the third recent teaming of Par and the ICM-repped thesp. He signed with the studio last week to produce and possibly star in romantic comedy “Dear Delilah” following the success of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” which has grossed $103 million domestically.

Breck Eisner, the son of Walt Disney Co. topper Michael Eisner, has been in negotiations to direct “Sahara” (Daily Variety, April 11).

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