WB taps Roth for fugitive pic 'Shantaram'

Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth has been hired by Warner Bros. to adapt “Shantaram,” the Gregory David Roberts novel being developed as a starring vehicle for Johnny Depp. Pic will be produced by Initial Entertainment’s Graham King, Depp through his Infinitum Nihil banner and Plan B’s Brad Pitt.

Roth, who won the Oscar for “Forrest Gump,” takes over from Roberts, the novelist who wrote a first draft. Roth has been writing an inordinate number of major films lately. Recent script work includes the first draft of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” Curtis Hanson’s “Lucky You” and the Robert De Niro-directed “The Good Shepherd.” He adapted an F. Scott Fitzgerald story into “Benjamin Button,” the David Fincher film that will star Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Roth is also adapting the Jonathan Safran Foer 9/11 novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” for producer Scott Rudin.

Warners bought “Shantaram” for $2 million last year in a deal Initial’s King helped piece together, as Initial has an overall pact with Depp’s Infinitum Nihil.

Depp plans to play the protag, an Australian heroin addict who escapes from a maximum security prison after a robbery conviction and goes on the lam in India. He reinvents himself first as a doctor in the Bombay slums and then as a counterfeiter, smuggler and gunrunner. He winds up in Afghanistan, fighting against the invading Russian troops.

Book, published by St. Martin’s Press last year, parallels the actual exploits of the author.

WB’s Kevin McCormick is supervising the project.

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