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Israeli Actress Cracks ‘Code’

Step aside, Bar Refaeli — starting next year, Israel’s most famous international face will belong to a 38-year-old thespian from Tel Aviv.

Ayelet Zurer, a film and TV star in Israel for much of the past two decades, has been tapped to play the female lead in “Angels & Demons,” a prequel to “The Da Vinci Code” almost sure be one of next year’s top box office draws.

Based on the juggernaut best-seller by Dan Brown, the film will feature Zurer opposite Tom Hanks in the role of Vittoria Vetra, the adopted daughter of a murdered Italian physicist. The bereaved woman, also a scientist, soon joins forces with Robert Langdon (Hanks), a Harvard “symbologist,” untangling a conspiracy that involves a secret religious society, a small container of antimatter and the election of a new pope.

Though the film is unlikely to earn rave reviews — the big screen version of “The Da Vinci Code” was widely panned — it’s nearly certain to bring Zurer to a new level of international visibility. The previous film in the series, released in 2006, opened that year’s Cannes Film Festival and grossed just under $760 million worldwide.

Production on “Angels & Demons” will begin next month in Europe, with Ron Howard directing. The film’s release set for May 2009.

The winner of Israel’s top film acting prize in 2003, Zurer scored her Hollywood breakthrough two years later, as the wife of a Mossad agent in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” The actress appeared in a key role earlier this year in “Vantage Point,” a Hollywood thriller that stars Dennis Quaid and Sigourney Weaver and is currently the sixth highest-grossing film of the year.

Zurer’s agent, David Lillard, described the actress as “excited” about the new project, adding that she was “busy prepping already.”

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