Benedict Cumberbatch is being lined up to portray the 1920s Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett in James Gray's Lost City of Z, reports Deadline.

In what appears to be the currently red-hot British star's first starring role in potential blockbuster fare, he will portray a real-life figure who was scorned by his peers after his expeditions in the Brazilian Amazon led him to claim evidence of a hidden ancient metropolis at its heart. Fawcett travelled back into the jungle in 1925 with his son and was never seen again.

Brad Pitt was attached to play Fawcett in Gray's film when it was first announced five years ago, but Cumberbatch seems the better fit. The project is still being put together at Pitt's Plan B production company. Gray is best known for brooding dramas We Own the Night and The Yards as well as this year's Cannes entry The Immigrant.

Fawcett is said to have been one of George Lucas's inspirations for Indiana Jones and was also a friend of authors H Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle; the latter was inspired by the explorer's stories to write The Lost World. The mystery of what happened to the adventurer remains one of the 20th century's enduring puzzles: an estimated 100 would-be-rescuers have died in more than 13 expeditions (one as recently as 1996) sent to uncover Fawcett's fate.

Cumberbatch is set to play Julian Assange in the forthcoming biopic about the WikiLeaks founder, The Fifth Estate, and is voicing both the dragon, Smaug, and the Necromancer in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy. He will also star in Steve McQueen's Oscar-tipped 12 Years a Slave, and has a role in the big-screen adaptation of the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play August: Osage County opposite Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. © Guardian News and Media 2013