Benedict Cumberbatch is set to star in the World War II drama The War Magician as the war magician of the title, Variety reports. And what, pray tell, is a war magician? Well, a war magician is a literal stage magician who uses their talent for making things vanish in order to help win a war. The War Magician has been in development since 2003, when Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paul Wagner optioned the book and had Peter Weir attached to direct. Perhaps due to some dark magic, the film didn’t make much progress, and in 2012, it was given a new director: World War Z’s Marc Forster. But he dropped out. (No new director is attached yet.) Based on David Fisher’s fact-based novel, the screenplay will be adapted by Gary Whitta (After Earth).
Adaptation star Cumberbatch will play the real-life British stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, who used illusions (not tricks—never tricks) to help Allied forces defeat the Nazis during World War II. To accomplish this task, Maskelyne assembled an alliance of magicians dubbed “The Magic Gang.” These useful nerds made tanks, troops, buildings, harbors, and canals straight-up disappear. They also made bogus harbors. Maskelyne was so badass with all his illusions, Adolf Hitler added him to his personal blacklist. See, you can do magic and still be cool! You can do magic and be a war hero!
“War magician” sounds right up Cumberbatch’s alley: Not only did the actor receive an Oscar nomination last year for his role as real-life British codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, he’s set to play the Sorcerer Supreme in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange movie. (See? War, Magician!) According to Storyscape Entertainment’s Bob Cooper, who helped land Cumberbatch for the project, talks about the actor playing Maskelyne began last year during The Imitation Game’s awards campaign. But Cooper assures that Maskelyne will be a much different role than Turing: “The Maskelyne character is so different from the one that Benedict portrayed in The Imitation Game in that he was very outgoing and confident,” he said. “We think this is a perfect blend of acting talent with material.”