Actor in talks for Universal, Imagine drama

Sean Penn is in talks to star in “Cartel,” a drama for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment.

Asger Leth will direct and Brian Grazer is producing.

Scripted by Peter Craig, the mission movie will follow Ed Marker as he journeys to protect his son after his wife is brutally murdered in the gritty world of Mexican cartels.

The drama took root at Imagine as a remake of 1993 Italian film “La scorta,” which followed four cops’ struggle to guard a special prosecutor trying to bring mob bosses to justice. It evolved into an action vehicle for Penn.

Robert Stone and Webster Stone will exec produce.

Leth makes his dramatic feature directing debut on the film. He previously won a DGA Award for directing the 2006 documentary “Ghosts of Cite Soleil.”

The studio and Imagine want to get the picture into production by summer. Start date won’t be firmed until Penn’s deal is made.

Penn has also been in discussions to star with Naomi Watts in the Doug Liman-directed “Fair Game,” a drama about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame that landed at Bill Pohlad’s River Road after Warner Bros. dropped out. Those talks continue.

Imagine is in post-production on the Ron Howard-directed “Angels and Demons,” which Sony releases May 15. Company is also prepping the untitled Robin Hood film to be helmed by Ridley Scott, with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett starring. Lensing is set to begin April 1 for Universal.

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