Steve Carell's North Korea movie from Guy Delisle novel scrapped after Sony hack

Fox's New Regency has axed plans for Steve Carell's North Korea-set movie based on a novel by Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle, after Sony scrapped release of The Interview amid threats.

'Sad day for creative expression,' actor says in tweet Wednesday

Steve Carell was set to star in thriller based on graphic novel Pyongyang, by Quebec City-born cartoonist 4:11

New Regency has reportedly pulled the plug on a Steve Carell movie set in North Korea after the unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures that a U.S. official has linked to the secretive state.

Carell was set to star in the thriller based on the graphic novel Pyongyang, by Quebec City-born cartoonist Guy Delisle.

The story centres on a young animator who becomes accused of spying in the communist nation. Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski was set to direct.

Industry website Deadline Hollywood reported Wednesday that New Regency, a Fox-owned studio, had backed away from the film because Fox "declined to distribute it," according to an unnamed spokesperson.​

Production was set to begin in March.

Carell hasn't directly commented on the decision, but the actor and star of the new movie Foxcatcher seemed to express his frustration in a Twitter message Wednesday, writing "sad day for creative expression, #feareatsthesoul." 

The security breach at Sony Pictures last month exposed a trove of sensitive documents, and escalated to threats of terrorism this week.

In a message released Tuesday, a shadowy group calling itself the Guardians of Peace pledged to target upcoming screenings of the comedy movie The Interview with Sept. 11-style attacks.

Sony Pictures cancelled the Dec. 25 theatrical release of the comedy, saying it made the decision after most exhibitors slated to screen the film decided not to amid the threats.

Canadian screenings scrapped

U.S. theatres weren't the only ones to react — all 17 Rainbow and Magic Lantern Theatres in Toronto cancelled screenings of The Interview for the holidays, after moviegoers were threatened.

A spokesperson told Ioanna Roumeliotis of CBC News that the cinemas aren't sure whether the decision will be reversed.

"After careful consideration of this unprecedented and complex situation, Cineplex Entertainment will postpone presentation of the Sony Pictures movie, The Interview," said Par Marshall, Cineplex's vice-president of communications and investor relations.

"Cineplex takes seriously its commitment to the freedom of artistic expression, but we want to reassure our guests and staff that their safety and security is our No. 1 priority. We look forward to a time when this situation is resolved and those responsible are apprehended."

A spokesperson for the entertainment company killed rumours of a video-on-demand release, saying Sony has "no further release plans for the film."​

Canada's Industry Minister James Moore says he finds Sony's decision to cancel the release of The Interview to be "quite shameful."

"I believe in free speech and I don't believe in flushing a $44-million investment down the drain because people are afraid of this kind of cyberattack," Moore told Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics

Attack hits Sony's 'heart and core' 

U.S. investigators believe there is a connection between the Sony hack and the isolated communist nation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

At a news conference Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he wasn't in a position to comment on who was behind the hack and referred questions to the FBI.

On Thursday, he said the cyberattack was carried out by a "sophisticated" perpetrator and that the U.S. is considering a proportional response.

Cast members James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen were at the premiere of the film The Interview in Los Angeles earlier this month. But the broader theatrical release of the Sony Pictures film has now been halted. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
The attack is possibly the costliest ever for a U.S. company, Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner, told The Associated Press.

"This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business and succeeded," she said. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of U.S. breach history."

Mark Rasch, a former cybercrimes prosecutor in the U.S. who now works in cybersecurity, told CBC’s Andrew Nichols that there are a number of links that point back to North Korea beyond the subject matter of the film, such as internet protocol addresses and internet chatter. But he noted that another hacking group could have planted these signals to point back to the hermit state.

He said that in his view, the real threat of the Sony attack is that groups can target major corporations and make demands that are then followed.

"The hard part is, it's really going to affect decisions about risk within Sony and other companies," he said of the hack. "And it should — companies need to take these kinds of threats seriously and make risk decisions not just based upon a checklist in cybersecurity."

Industry analysts predict the breach could cost Sony an estimated $170 million to $210 million US in lost revenues, proprietary information and potential lawsuits from employees whose data were disclosed.

Before the hackers struck, Sony was forecasting $8.1 billion in annual sales for its movie division out of total sales of $66 billion.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred questions to the FBI on Thursday. In fact, the statement cited above was made on Wednesday.
    Dec 18, 2014 5:24 PM ET

With files from The Associated Press

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