Burnett hopes to adapt Perdue novels for big screen

Mark Burnett has found God.

The unscripted guru has optioned the rights to “The Da Vinci Legacy” and “Daughter of God,” a pair of novels from scribe Lewis Perdue that explore the connections between the art world and Christian theology. Burnett — who has been looking to move into the feature world — snapped up the books with an eye on developing them as features.

Move comes as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” continues to rule the B.O.

Both “Legacy” and “Daughter” were published before Dan Brown’s 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” became a bestseller. Indeed, Perdue has made rumblings of suing over what he believes are similarities between his works and Brown’s.

‘Devastating secret’

“Legacy,” first released in 1983, centers on the hunt for “a priceless work by Leonardo Da Vinci (that) holds the key to a secret so devastating that the Vatican will stop at nothing to prevent the world from knowing,” according to a synopsis posted on Perdue’s Web site. Said secret is contained in what the book calls the “Da Vinci Codex.”

“Daughter,” released in 2004, focuses on art broker Zoe Ridgeway’s involvement in a centuries-old conspiracy to cover up the possibility of a female messiah named Sophia. Perdue has questioned similarities between “Daughter” and “Da Vinci Code,” and on his Web site, Perdue makes clear he is actively investigating the possibility of taking legal action against Brown’s publisher, Random House.

Burnett said he’s long been interested in the origins of modern theology.

Passion for theology

“This is a subject I’ve been studying forever, and about which I’m very passionate,” Burnett told Daily Variety. He cited “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, as one of the first books to spark his interest in theological thrillers.

“I’ve taken both these books and I’m going to sit down with CAA in the next few weeks to talk about taking this on to the market,” Burnett said. “My intention is to do separate feature films on both, or one movie combining (elements from) both.”

Perdue said Burnett first approached him last summer about the possibility of developing the books. “He told me, ‘This has been a passion of mine for decades and decades’ … and we just hit it off,” Perdue said.

Relationship key

The two men “kept kicking things around” for the next few months, Perdue added. “I had interest from two other groups. … Suddenly Mark called up said, ‘Let’s do this.’ It was really the personal relationship that (decided) it for me.”

Perdue said his 10-year-old son played a role in determining which offer to ultimately accept. “He thought Mark Burnett was a cool guy,” he said. “It’s hard to pull one over on a 10-year-old.”

Burnett is already thinking of scribes to adapt the books into screenplays; Perdue said he “has no illusion that I’m a screenwriter.”

No third-party publishers were involved in the rights deal. “My literary agent Natasha Kern was a genius (because) we reserved 100% of the film and TV rights,” Perdue said.

Sony is developing a feature adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code” with John Calley, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman (Daily Variety, Oct. 2).

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