Brooding actor goes from Bobby Sands to Brontë

The actor who has been feted at Cannes for his starring role as the IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands, is to play Heathcliff in a film adaptation of Emily Brontë's book, Wuthering Heights.

Michael Fassbender, whose lead performance as Sands in Hunger earned him a standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes this week, was chosen for his "brooding" presence, according to film executives.

A spokesperson for Ecosse Films, the British production company, said it had secured the actor, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Michael's our Heathcliff. He has the raw quality we were looking for," said the spokesperson. "He's the right actor for the role, and he has a sense of star quality about him."

Tim Haslam, the chief executive of HanWay, which is handing the film's international sales, added: "He'll be a revelation – brooding, wild and dangerous – he could be a Brando for Britain." John Maybury, who is directing the film, was said to be gripped by the power of Fassbender's acting in the screen test. The director still needs to cast a female lead as Heathcliff's love, Cathy, after the Hollywood actress, Natalie Portman, opted out of the role.

A replacement for her is apparently planned "within days", with reports that Sienna Miller is in early talks for the part. She has only recently finished working on The Edge of Love, which was directed by Maybury. Olivia Hetreed, the scriptwriter for Girl With a Pearl Earring, starring Scarlett Johansson and adapted from Tracey Chevalier's novel, has written the screenplay for Wuthering Heights. Shooting will begin in the autumn and it is due to be released next summer.

The production team hopes to steer the film away from "the stuffy costume drama" format.

Nevertheless, Fassbender, 31, who was born in Germany and moved to Co Kerry as a child, has admitted to his love of period costumes. On his website, he said: "They're great. I love them. It makes my job easier. You put on a costume and you look different."

For his role in Hunger, he shed 16kg to achieve an emaciated look for his part as the hunger striker, who died in the Maze prison in 1981.

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