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Johnny Depp may replace Robert Downey Jr. in “Oz”

By Sean O’Connell Robert Downey Jr. is clicking his heel three times and following the yellow brick road away from “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” Disney’s prequel to the “Wizard of Oz” that finds a young illusionist whose hot air balloon carries him over the rainbow to the magical realm. Downey was set to play the man behind the magic curtain. Sam Raimi was tapped to direct.

But Downey has walked away from the project, and the studio is hoping Johnny Depp might want to step into his role, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Oz,” says THR, is a high-priority project for Disney. And Depp has a deep relationship with the studio. He’ll reprise his famous Jack Sparrow role for a fourth “Pirates” movie this May, and he’s on board to play Tonto in a “Lone Ranger” movie with Gore Verbinski for Disney. If Depp were to commit to “Oz,” it would push “Ranger” back a bit. THR says Disney would like to start production on “Oz” in the second half of 2011.

As for Downey, this is the second project he has separated himself from in recent months (the other being Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” which went to George Clooney). Is he enjoying some free time before the grind that will be Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers?” Or will Downey announce another project in coming weeks?

We’ll see.

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