Simm supplanted by Pitt in film version of 'State of Play'

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The Independent Online

John Simm, the star of Clocking Off, Sex Traffic and Life on Mars, is widely considered to be one of the best television actors to emerge in recent years. But he has been sidelined by Hollywood in the film version of one of his biggest successes, the political thriller State of Play.

In the latest example of the trend for British actors to be replaced by Americans, it was revealed yesterday that Brad Pitt is due to take the lead role in the film remake of the serial, a critical and commercial success for the BBC.

Paul Abbott, the writer of State of Play, disclosed in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live that Pitt has agreed to take on the role of the journalist Cal McCaffrey, played by Simm in the six-part drama, first shown in 2003.

It was also confirmed yesterday that a planned second series of State of Play may not be made.

Abbot, who also wrote episodes of Cracker, as well as creating Clocking Off and Shameless, is executive producer on the film, which has been in the planning stage for two years.

The plotline is believed to have been switched to an American location, which would account for the choice of Pitt in the lead role. Matthew Carnahan, best known as a writer, is due to direct the film, which is expected to begin production next year.

Liz Thomas, a writer on television for The Stage newspaper said the making of the film was a good advertisement for British television, although the choice of Pitt was "frustrating" for domestic actors such as Simm.

She said: "British TV is certainly very hip in Hollywood these days and, despite criticisms that the Americans do drama better, pieces like State of Play show we can more than hold our own. Thankfully, Abbott is executive producer on the film so the gripping plot and beautifully crafted dialogue won't be lost in translation.''

She added: "The good thing about reworking the show into a big-budget, high-profile film is that it is a huge advert or shop window for the sort of things that have come out of the UK in recent years, particularly given the smaller budgets. Brad Pitt will be a huge draw and commercially this makes sense. But, of course, it is frustrating that, given the wealth of acting talent available, that it isn't a Brit."

The story of a team of journalists investigating the death of a political researcher, State of Play won a best actor Bafta for Bill Nighy, who played a newspaper editor, and further editing and sound honours. It also starred David Morrissey and Polly Walker.

Although the BBC was reported to have commissioned a second series of State of Play before the first was shown and Abbott was said to be writing the story earlier this year, it appears the project has been shelved. The BBC said it knew of no plans for a second series while a spokesman for Abbott said he was "undecided" on a follow-up.

One reason for the uncertainty is likely to be the high demand for the services of Abbott, Nighy and Simm, who is due to star in the second series of Life on Mars, also a critical success.

A tale of two actors

Brad Pitt

Age: 42

Born: Oklahoma, USA.

Training: Studied journalism at University of Missouri.

Career highs: Films include Interview with the Vampire (1994); Fight Club (1999) and the Ocean's Eleven trilogy.

Family: Actresss Angelina Jolie and daughter Shiloh, born in May this year.

Earnings: $25m (June 2004-June 2005).

Interests: Architecture and Third World aid.

Image: Twice voted Sexist Man Alive.

John Simm

Age: 36

Born: Leeds, raised in Nelson, Lancashire.

Training: Blackpool Drama College, then drama school in London.

Career highs: Won best actor award at Valencia Film Festival for Boston Kickout (1996). Starring roles in The Lakes (1997); 24-Hour Party People (2002); State of Play (2003) Sex Traffic (2004) and Life On Mars (2006).

Family: Actress Kate Magowan and son Ryan, five.

Earnings: Unknown, but 24-Hour Party People grossed £265,428 in the UK in 2002.

Outside interests: Manchester United.

Image: Northern soul boy.