Pitt quits film version of 'State of Play'

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Brad Pitt has pulled out of his starring role in the Hollywood version of the BBC's award-winning drama State of Play following two weeks of arguments with the film's director over the script.

The Hollywood actor had been set to star alongside Edward Norton and Helen Mirren in Universal Studio's overhaul of the 2003 BBC television series but quit after falling out with the film's director Kevin Macdonald. Disagreements over the script, which has reportedly been significantly altered since Pitt signed up for the project, were compounded by the current writers' strike, which meant that no writers were available to make further changes during the dispute.

"Brad Pitt has left the Universal Pictures production of State of Play," Universal Studios said in a statement. "We remain committed to this project and to the film-makers, cast members, crew and others who are also involved in making the movie."

The studio will now face a frantic search for an equally popular actor who could fill in for Pitt at short notice or risk seeing the multi-million pound project fail. According to the Hollywood Reporter, producers at the studio were seeking to lure Russell Crowe or Johnny Depp, whose own movie Shantaram, based on the semi-true story of an Australian convict who joined the Mumbai mafia in the 1980s, has also been postponed because of the scriptwriters' strike.

Filming on State of Play was due to begin on 15 November but has been indefinitely postponed until a replacement for Pitt can be found. Studio bosses will be under pressure to replace the role quickly or risk losing some of the other actors that have signed up for the project. They include the Mean Girls actress Rachel McAdams and the Emmy-winning Arrested Development star Jason Bateman.

Helen Mirren has also signed up to a so-called "stop date" on the project, which will allow her to leave filming on State of Play for another film that she is lined up to begin filming on by next summer.

Both Universal Studios and Pitt could also now find themselves embroiled in a costly legal fight over who was to blame for the departure. According to Variety, the studio considers Pitt to have walked out of a pay-or-play commitment and is leaving open the option to sue him. But Pitt's camp say the actor never approved the final script and did not want to drop out of a project he has been involved with for 16 months.

Universal Studios obtained the rights to shoot State of Play after an intense bidding war two years ago. The film is based on the BBC series which starred Bill Nighy and tells the story of a former political consultant-turned journalist whose loyalties are tested when his investigative team is asked to look into the death of a young political researcher.

The British series was set in Westminster but the Hollywood version is moving the action to Capitol Hill.

Brad Pitt was due to have played the chief reporter Cal McCaffrey, who was played by John Simm in the Bafta-winning BBC series.

The Shameless writer Paul Abbott wrote the original TV script but it has been adapted for the big screen by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who recently wrote the political thriller Lions for Lambs, starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep.