Leo’s motive is mercenary

DiCaprio plots mercenary thriller pic

Leonardo DiCaprio will produce and star in an untitled action thriller focusing on the growing global phenomenon of mercenaries used by governments and companies to wage war.

Scott Burns has been set to write the script; development will be co-financed by Initial Entertainment Group and Beacon Pictures, which will produce with DiCaprio’s Appian Way.

Having grown increasingly involved on the political front, DiCaprio sparked to the idea of mixing a thriller element with the cautionary theme of outsourcing war. Concept was hatched by Peter Landesman, a foreign correspondent and senior reporter of the New York Times Magazine, and Appian Way president Brad Simpson.

Since Landesman just signed a deal at Beacon and Appian Way has its first-look deal at Initial, the two entities teamed to co-finance development. Initial’s Graham King sealed that deal with Beacon chairman Armyan Bernstein and CEO Charlie Lyons.

Burns wrote “The Informant,” a fact-based thriller about a corporate whistleblower to star Matt Damon; Steven Soderbergh will helm the pic next spring. Burns also scripted and will direct “PU-239,” a drama about black market plutonium in Russia. He will begin immediately writing the mercenary thriller with input from Landesman and Simpson.

For King, the deal marks the second significant package triggered by inhouse talent relationships. The Initial president also has a first-look deal with Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil shingle, and he teamed with Depp, Brad Grey and Warner Bros. to score a $2 million deal for “Shantaram,” a Gregory David Roberts novel that will be a Depp starring vehicle.

Appian Way will get its first production credit on “The Aviator,” the Howard Hughes biopic that bows Dec. 17; King is producing with Michael Mann. Initial is also spearheading DiCaprio’s next starring effort, Robert De Niro-directed CIA thriller “The Good Shepherd.”

King and Initial development director Alexa Faigen will supervise production with Beacon production prexy Zanne Devine and Simpson. Beacon is prepping Harrison Ford thriller “The Wrong Element.”

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