Tampa is breaking back into movies, and breaking bad with a star.
Emmy and Tony Award winner Bryan Cranston will star in The Infiltrator, which will be partly filmed locally. The movie is based on the memoirs of Tampa resident Robert Mazur, a former DEA agent who worked undercover to bust drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's money laundering system.
Filming will begin in February, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. London and Paris are also slated as filming locations.
"This is a big win … that validates the time and resources we've dedicated to rebuilding our local film industry," Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said in a news release. "By attracting a big-budget motion picture like The Infiltrator, we're proving that we can, and will, compete for projects that were regularly going to Miami, Orlando or elsewhere in Florida."
Representatives of Good Films scouted locations around Tampa in 2013, and told the Tampa Bay Times their preference was to shoot portions of the movie there.
Olivia Read of London-based Good Films replied Wednesday by email: "Production is slated to film in Florida, but at this stage all exact shooting locations are yet to be confirmed."
The arrival of The Infiltrator production is surprising since Florida's film production industry has stalled, with the depletion of the state's tax incentives fund, and the Legislature's refusal in May to replenish it.
Good Films previously announced a $47.5 million budget for The Infiltrator. The production was in line for $4.3 million in tax credits until the incentives system went broke. In March, the Hillsborough County Commission approved a drop-in-the-bucket $250,000 incentive for the project.
In addition, Tampa will cover the costs of street closures and off-duty police patrols, Port Tampa Bay will provide production office space, and the University of Tampa's film production program will provide students in support roles.
Cranston won four Emmys for Breaking Bad, playing school teacher turned meth mogul Walter White. He recently earned a Tony award for playing President Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way.
Mazur is thrilled that Cranston will be playing him on screen.
"Frankly, I couldn't be happier or prouder," Mazur said from a business trip in New York. "The man is clearly, extraordinarily talented. But it's not just him that makes me happy; it's the whole team leading this journey. … These are people I've now dealt with for years. I think I'm a pretty good evaluator of people's agendas — that's what I did for a living undercover — and not only are they super-talented people … (but) very respectful of the story."
The Infiltrator will be directed by Brad Furman, best known for 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey and Cranston, in a supporting role. That movie rekindled McConaughey's movie stardom, the first step in a career renaissance that culminated in an Academy Award in March for Dallas Buyers Club. In 2013, Furman's pairing of Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake in Runner Runner flopped with critics and audiences.
Despite his television and Broadway triumphs and movie roles in Argo and Godzilla, The Infiltrator marks Cranston's first time carrying a major motion picture. A request for comment Wednesday went unanswered by Cranston's publicists in Los Angeles.
Like Breaking Bad, Cranston's role in The Infiltrator calls for posing as someone he isn't. Mazur created an undercover persona as "Bob Musella," a high roller with mob connections, collecting information on Escobar's money laundering process.
Exactly how much of Ellen Brown Furman's adapted screenplay calls for Tampa Bay locations is unknown. Mazur's 2009 book The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel mentions Tampa on just 32 of its 346 pages, according to its index. Meetings are detailed at several Tampa Bay hotels including Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Tarpon Springs, and Sheraton Sand Key Resort and the former Holiday Inn Surfside on Clearwater Beach. New Port Richey makes a cameo appearance.
Prominent Tampa locations in Mazur's book include two apartment complexes, U.S. Customs offices and the U.S. District Courthouse downtown. Mazur wouldn't comment on whether he read the screenplay, or how much Tampa Bay figures into the action.
"It probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that (Tampa) is going to be a part of the formula," Mazur said. "Certainly a lot of the story occurred here. . . . To what degree and how much time (will be spent filming here, Furman and Good Films are) the only ones who can speak to that."
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.