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OTRC: Johnny Depp to star in 'Wizard of Oz' prequel, report says

Johnny Depp is in talks to play the Wizard of Oz in "Oz, the Great and Powerful," Disney's prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Sam Raimi is signed on to direct the movie which tells the story of the young wizard, who is forced to flee a traveling circus but lands in Oz when his hot air balloon is swept up in a tornado. In the land of Oz, the illusionist is forced to compete with two witches for control.

The local Michigan ABC7 station is abuzz with rumors that "Oz, the Great and Powerful" would take advantage of the state's tax incentive for the film industry. A production company called Emerald City Films was approved for tax credits and reportedly plans on filming at the almost-completed Raliegh Studio, which was built at the site of the former Pontiac GM plant.

Robert Downey Jr. was rumored to be up for the role, but his publicist denied the actor's involvement.

Depp has worked with Disney in last year's "Alice in Wonderland" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise but has a lot on his plate with eight films reportedly in production and fourteen projects in development. Depp has also signed on to portray Tonto in "The Lone Ranger," which is another Disney project being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

Depp, who is part Cherokee, recently talked to Entertainment Weekly about why he is excited to play Tonto on the big screen.

"I always felt Native Americans were badly portrayed in Hollywood films over the decades," he says. "It's a real opportunity for me to give a salute to them. Tonto was a sidekick in all the Lone Ranger series. [This film] is a very different approach to that partnership. And a funny one I think."

Depp's next role will be a return to Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which is set for release on May 20, 2011.

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