Crowe girding for ‘Gladiator’

Scott at helm of epic

Russell Crowe is near a deal to star for director Ridley Scott in “Gladiator,” an epic-sized film on the order of “Ben-Hur” and “Spartacus” set in the Roman chariot days.

The film will be financed by DreamWorks and produced by Doug Wick; and Universal is said to be circling to become a co-production partner.

Crowe would play a Roman general who is the presiding Caesar’s most fearsome and respected warrior. When the leader falls ill, he designates the general to succeed him. The Caesar’s son, however, has other plans. He strips the general of his stripes and family and banishes him.

The general becomes part of the world of gladiators, where fight-to-the-death battles are framed around the pageantry of a Roman circus atmosphere. The warrior battles his way to a final fight that will lead him to a match — and a chance for revenge — against the man who banished him.

The film will be a true period piece and carries a budget north of $80 million. The script, originated by David Franzoni (“Amistad”), is now being worked on by John Logan, who previously worked with Scott on “RKO 281,” the battle between Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst over “Citizen Kane.” That script’s now at HBO.

Logan also wrote “On Any Given Sunday,” the upcoming Oliver Stone-directed movie about football for Warner Bros.

For Crowe, landing the lead in the Scott-directed film is the latest in an upward surge started by a starmaking role in “L.A. Confidential.” Crowe just finished starring as tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand opposite Al Pacino in the untitled Michael Mann-directed film for Hollywood Pictures, and he recently starred in the Jay Roach-directed hockey film “Mystery Alaska” for Hollywood.

Crowe is repped by ICM’s George Freeman.

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