Warner Bros. waves its wand over ‘Carter Beats the Devil’


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EXCLUSIVE: Movies about circus performers, magicians and other showmen are again finding themselves on the main stage in Hollywood, what with ‘Water for Elephants’ a tidy hit for Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson this spring and Steve Carell plotting ‘Burt Wonderstone,’ a story of rival Vegas magicians.

A similar film could soon join them. Warner Bros. is pulling out of its sleeve ‘Carter Beats the Devil,’ an adaptation of Glen David Gold’s 2002 novel about a magician who either is getting played or creating the grandest illusion of his career.


Gold’s bestseller is a 1920s historical mystery in which the titular magician, Charles Carter, stages a sawed-in-half trick on President Warren G. Harding, only to be forced on the lam after Harding mysteriously dies shortly after. The plot mixes in other historical figures and Carter’s rivalry with an archnemesis.

Attempts to make ‘Carter’ into a movie have been around for a while — Tom Cruise tried developing it shortly after the book was published — with all of them vanishing in development. But the movie is now back on the frontburner at studio Warner Bros., according to two people who were briefed on the studio’s plans but were not authorized to talk about them publicly.

A new version of the script has been completed and turned in to the studio, the people said, and Warner Bros. has put Johnny Depp atop the list of actors it wants to play Carter. (From Willy Wonka to Jack Sparrow, Depp has a history of playing eccentric showmen.) Warner Bros is also seeking directors and has put the word out to the major Hollywood agencies that it’s looking to fill the position, said agents at three of the largest Hollywood agencies. A Warner Bros. spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment.

The world of magic is ripe for drama, what with its fierce rivalries and convincing in-movie performances (in a film, any illusion can look real). That world is also lucrative, as both ‘The Prestige’ and ‘The Illusionist’ proved in 2006. And far more than more than making rabbits disappear, Hollywood loves making green things appear.

— Steven Zeitchik