Denzel Washington attached to 'Matarese'

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NEW YORK -- Move over, Matt Damon. A package based on a best-selling Robert Ludlum novel is creating a buzz as it has been pitched to studios this week. And there's a good reason: Denzel Washington is attached to play the hero.

The project, "The Matarese Circle," revolves around two secret agents -- an American and a Russian -- who must work together to fight a mysterious group of killers known as the Matarese. The twist: The agents, Bradley Scofield and Vasili Taleniekov, have been nemeses for years, with each responsible for killing someone close to the other. According to those familiar with the pitch, Washington would play Scofield.

Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, the scribes behind Lionsgate's "3:10 to Yuma" and upcoming Universal tentpole "Wanted," are attached as writers. Veteran producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler are on board as producers.

Nearly all the major studios have heard at least a version of the pitch, with several thought to be keenly interested; however, no deal had been struck.

After decades during which the late Ludlum's novels failed to gain big screen traction, the thriller novelist is now hot in Hollywood. Universal's "Bourne" series, based on his globehopping Cold War novels and with Damon as the title character, has earned more than $900 million worldwide.

"Matarese" could be attractive to studios seeking a new franchise. The property is the only other Ludlum invention to feature more than one novel; a second book, "The Matarese Countdown," was published in 1997. Universal, meanwhile, has announced a fourth "Bourne" movie reteaming Damon and director Paul Greengrass, though Ludlum wrote only three novels. Two recent Bourne books were written by Eric Van Lustbader and published after Ludlum's death, with a third Van Lustbader title is expected in the summer.

Borys Kit in Los Angeles contributed to this report
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