Gary Susman
November 15, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

How do you make a watchable cinematic thriller about a guy who spends a lot of time hanging out in libraries and surfing the Web? If you’re Ron Howard, and your filming an adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, you hire Tom Hanks. ”Tom is an exciting actor to watch thinking,” the Oscar-winning director tells Newsweek. Noting that Dan Brown’s bestseller would probably be a blockbuster even without such an A-list leading man playing Holy Grail-seeking professor Robert Langdon, Howard says, ”We probably don’t need his status from a box-office standpoint, but he gives Langdon instant legitimacy.”

The film will mark Hanks’ third film for Howard, who made him a movie star in Splash 20 years ago and cemented his star status in 1995’s Apollo 13. Producer Brian Grazer promises that Hanks will be supported by a truly international cast, not just American actors playing Europeans. For instance, he says, France’s Jean Reno is on his short list to play cop Bezu Fache. And he says he turned down an inquiry by a recent Oscar winner to play Sophie Neveau, the Parisian cryptologist whose grandfather’s murder sets the plot in motion. ”She could easily do it,” Grazer says. ”But I think the audience would be let down a bit. They expect a French girl.”

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