Natascha Kampusch's dramatic story can make her millionaire

She was celebrated as "Natascha Superstar" after a poised and poignant appearance on national television to describe the 8Ѕ years she spent imprisoned in an underground cell.

That newspaper headline may turn out to be prophetic: Austria is abuzz over reports that filmmakers from Hollywood and around the world have been scrambling to obtain exclusive rights to turn 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch's dramatic story into a movie.

No deals have been announced, but Kampusch's media representative, Dietmar Ecker, acknowledged he has received about 30 inquiries from "large, internationally renowned film companies" since the teen bolted to freedom on Aug. 23. He declined to identify the studios.

Kampusch's lawyer, Gabriel Lansky, conceded there has been "enormous interest" in her story, but said it was simply too early to entertain any offers.

"Natascha Kampusch must first sort her life out," he said.

Marcel Pariseau, the Los Angeles-based publicist for actress Scarlett Johansson (pictures), denied European media reports this week that said "The Black Dahlia" star was interested in playing Kampusch. "There is no truth to this," he told The Associated Press in an e-mail message Thursday.

But other celebrities have said publicly they are taken by the story of Kampusch, who was snatched off a Vienna street on March 2, 1998, while walking to school as a freckle-faced 10-year-old and largely confined to a cramped, windowless cell beneath the garage of her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil.

Priklopil, 44, killed himself within hours of her escape by jumping in front of a commuter train. His remains were buried last week in a grave bearing a false name at an undisclosed cemetery south of the Austrian capital.

In an interview aired on Austrian radio from last week's Venice Film Festival, actor Ben Affleck said he was moved by what Kampusch went through at Priklopil's hands.

"The story of Natascha Kampusch shook me deeply - mostly because I just made a film with a similar theme," said Affleck, who makes his directorial debut in "Gone, Baby, Gone," scheduled for release in 2007 and based on the Dennis Lehane novel about two Boston-area detectives investigating a little girl's kidnapping.

Entertainment industry experts say the eventual sale of book and film rights to Kampusch's story could run as high as US$2 million.

The interest in stories like Kampusch's is natural - even though the acquisition of rights doesn't always lead to the making of a major motion picture or even a made-for-TV movie - said Greg Kilday, film editor for The Hollywood Reporter.

"There's an endless appetite for material and an interest in true-life stories," he said in a telephone interview. "Anytime there's a breaking news story, you're going to have competition for the rights. Sometimes it's just a pre-emptive move."

At least one playwright already has expressed interest in adapting the Austrian teen's story to the stage.

Maja Pelevic, a 25-year-old award-winning author from Belgrade, said this week she was commissioned by the Serbian National Theater to write a play about Kampusch.

"The inspiration comes from what Kampusch must have endured in the house of her captor, what she felt after returning home, the pressure from the media and how she handled all that," Serbian media quoted Pelevic as saying.

Some have suggested that the blond-haired, blue-eyed teen - who has said acting is one potential career choice that interests her - might even consider playing herself at some point. But psychologists treating her say that's out of the question, and that she will need years of therapy to recover from her ordeal.

Kampusch, who has been resting since her TV appearance last week, told the weekly magazine News she was looking forward to resuming a normal life - including voting in Austria's national elections next month, the AP reports.

"Yes, I'm going to vote. I'm already sufficiently informed politically," she said.

"I am robust - and it gets better and better every day."