Par’s pairing Ludlum, Leo

Studio buys 'Chancellor' rights for $4 mil

Paramount is spending $4 million for Robert Ludlum’s political thriller “The Chancellor Manuscript” to adapt into a feature to star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Pic will be produced by Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, whose Red Wagon will produce with DiCaprio’s Appian Way and the Ludlum estate.

Deal is expected to be completed early this week.

The buy, executed on Par Pictures prexy Gail Berman’s second day at work, is the biggest book deal of the year so far. Along with $4 million for the book, studio will be spending more than $1 million for an adaptation by Michael Seitzman, who scripted the Charlize Theron starrer “Class Action.”

DiCaprio will play Peter Chancellor, who turns in a novel about D.C. power brokers who are blackmailed into altering U.S. policies. When some operatives get hold of the manuscript, they think he has uncovered their actual scheme and they try to hunt the author down.

Paramount’s paying an astonishing amount of money for a book by an author who died in 2001 and published in 1977. Catalyst was Seitzman, who also wrote Brad Pitt vehicle “The Sparrow” and will direct his script “Storming the Court” for Warner Bros. He decided that the Cold War paranoia could be easily be updated to reflect the current political climate.

Seitzman brought his idea to Red Wagon prexy Bobby Cohen, and they got the blessing of the Ludlum estate and worked up a take with Wick and Fisher. DiCaprio and his Appian Way prexy Brad Simpson soon came aboard. Mindful of the success and sophistication of Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity” with Matt Damon, studios were eager to grab a DiCaprio thriller with a romantic element.

“The original was a paranoid thriller about intelligence agency abuses from the J. Edgar Hoover era, but intelligence groups have gotten more power and surveillance technology has become so sophisticated,” Wick said. “(With) Leonardo in the role of a man of action — and a romantic element thrown in — it becomes a very attractive film.”

Warner Bros, Sony and Paramount each got the pitch Tuesday and Wednesday. Berman and Par co-prexy of production Allie Shearmur — the latter of whom oversaw the “Bourne Identity” pics while an exec at Universal — moved quickly.

Deal will likely have other studios combing the Ludlum backlist for more than two dozen other political thrillers whose premises can be updated and tailored as star vehicles. The estate, which was repped by ICM in the deal, will have Jeffrey Weiner and Henry Morrison involved in producing capacities.

The rich deal was blessed by Par Pictures chairman-CEO Brad Grey, who has managed to put together two consecutive DiCaprio vehicles. While at Plan B, he made an equally aggressive buy for the remake rights to the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs,” which has turned into the Martin Scorsese-directed “The Departed,” a film that stars DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg for Warner Bros.

Wick and Fisher are producing upcoming adaptations of “Jarhead” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

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