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Andy McNab: Licensed To Thrill

Commando-turned-spy novelist McNab has a Hollywood deal in his sights.

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Miramax has bought the movie rights to Crisis Four, a two-year-old thriller about a British intelligence agent named Nick Stone that didn’t sell all that well in America. Why? Take a look at page 287: ”Bin Laden has become, over the last several years, the international terrorist posing the most serious threat to Western interests. He has an incredibly well-funded infrastructure and, of course, he has lots of money to fund it all himself.” Elsewhere, a character remarks, ”Not too keen on making friends, old Bin boy, is he?”

How did the author, one Andy McNab, seize so presciently on his prime villain?

”This guy’s been out there for about 10 years, insane and doing his thing in the darkness,” says McNab, 41, by phone from his native London. ”It was only after the attacks that he came to light and now everybody’s focused on him, but certainly the war against him has been going on for a long time.” McNab knows: He’s a former member of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), an elite commando unit, who has worked ”special operations” in Northern Ireland, the Middle and Far East, and Central and South America. (McNab isn’t his real name, either. He changed it because he says there’s ”a bounty on my head” for various jobs he’s done; he’s photographed only in shadow for his book jackets, to protect himself and his family.)

Overseas, McNab’s a hit: In addition to the best-selling Crisis, his first book, 1993’s Bravo Two Zero—a nonfiction account of his Gulf War experiences—sold more than 1.5 million copies in the United Kingdom; the first Nick Stone novel, 1997’s Remote Control, sold a million-plus. A new Stone adventure, Firewall, has just been published.

”Nick is like me with no social skills,” says McNab. ”He’s all about gettin’ in, slittin’ some throats, and gettin’ out again. But he couldn’t make small talk at a party with you. I could.” A working-class fellow who, as a baby, was orphaned—left on the steps of a British hospital in a Harrods shopping bag—McNab also runs a service that teaches journalists how to conduct themselves in foreign hot spots (CNN is among his clients). How’d he feel about the media when he was a commando? He laughs. ”We’d avoid ’em at all costs—they were the Anti-christ! My work was of a covert nature, and you didn’t want anyone seeing you.” On the present situation in Afghanistan, he’s typically blunt: ”Hopefully, America and its allies can get troops into those caves and dig [the terrorists] out. These guys have been fightin’ for decades; it’s not as if they’re scared. If you start putting troops in for long-term operations, they know how to deal with that. So it’s speed, surprise, and most definitely aggression that’s needed.”

Crisis is still in the scriptwriting stage, but who would McNab like to see play his ruthless, roguish hero? ”Crowe, Pitt, Clooney—they’d give it some credibility,” he muses. ”I dunno; I watched Swordfish the other week and Hugh Jackman, he could slice a terrorist up, I think.”

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