Constantin topples 'Pope'

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Constantin Film has stopped production on its medieval drama "Pope Joan" as the German company pursues a $3 million lawsuit against John Goodman for allegedly reneging on an agreement to star in the picture.

Constantin confirmed Thursday that it has canceled the "Pope" shoot, which was set to begin May 12 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The company declined to say when the production might go ahead.

Constantin also declined comment on the Goodman suit, which it filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court. A spokesman for Goodman in Los Angeles repeated an earlier statement about the suit, saying, "There was no agreement for (Goodman) to do the movie."

Constantin alleges that Goodman made a verbal agreement to play Pope Sergius in the Volker Schlondorff-directed film for $500,000. "Pope" is an adaptation of the 1997 best-seller by Donna Woolfolk Cross about a woman who disguises herself as a man and rises through the ranks of the Catholic Church to become pope. German star Franka Potente has signed to play the lead.

Constantin said it relied on Goodman's alleged verbal agreement and did not cast any other actors for the role. On March 14, Goodman's lawyer told Constantin via e-mail that the actor would not appear in the film.

The company is seeking damages for money lost on preproduction.

The "Pope" project has had a long and troubled history. Constantin competitor Senator Film initially secured the rights to Cross' book and planned to shoot in 2003 with Berlin-based TV group UFA Film. Senator subsequently went bankrupt, and the project floundered before Constantin stepped in to revive it.

A 1972 version of the "Pope Joan" legend, starring Liv Ullmann and directed by Michael Anderson, also had a troubled history and was the subject of a lawsuit between the producer and distributor during its release. The 1972 film is available on DVD.

Constantin is positioning "Pope" as an opulent period piece akin to its recent hit "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer." The Tom Tykwer-directed feature, adapted from the book by Patrick Suskind, grossed more than $100 million worldwide last year.
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