'Carlos' thesp may replace Del Toro in J.J. Abrams' sci-fi sequel

Now that negotiations with Benicio Del Toro have fallen through, J.J. Abrams is moving fast to find someone else to play the villain in Paramount’s “Star Trek” sequel. While no offer has been made, sources tell Variety that “Carlos” star Edgar Ramirez is the frontrunner, with “Colombiana” thesp Jordi Molla also in the mix.

The studio had no comment on the casting process.

Ramirez was expected to test for the role via Skype this week, as Abrams hopes to make a quick decision with production looming. Talks with Del Toro fell apart last week, prompting Abrams and Par to rush their search for a replacement who could commit to a six-month shoot from January until June, with a May 17, 2013, release planned.

Most of the cast from the previous installment will return, including Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as well as new additions Alice Eve and Peter Weller. Abrams is back to direct, with Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof penning the script. Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, Lindelof, Bryan Burk and David Ellison will produce through Bad Robot and Skydance Prods.

What role would Ramirez play? It was reported last week — before Del Toro was out — that he’d be playing Khan, which Abrams and Paramount denied. Whether that denial was over the role or just Del Toro’s involvement (a convenient feint) isn’t clear. But Abrams seems committed to a Latin actor, mirroring the Mexico-born Ricardo Montalban, who played Khan in the original series and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Venezuelan thesp Ramirez, who co-starred opposite Del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” is repped by CAA and Impression Entertainment.

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