'Gladiator' star aiming for salary stratosphere

NEW YORK — In the latest example of how a box office hit can affect the salary of a star, “Gladiator” topliner Russell Crowe is being courted for several plum projects, and by the time the bloodletting is done in the ring, he might well be getting $15 million for his next film.

That’s the price being asked by his agents at William Morris, whose arguments grow more persuasive as “Gladiator” gets closer and closer to the $100 million gross mark. The new asking price is more than double what Crowe got for “Proof of Life,” the Castle Rock pic in which he’s currently starring for director Taylor Hackford.

Universal and Imagine are courting Crowe to star for director Ron Howard in “A Beautiful Mind,” the adaptation of Sylvia Nasar’s book about John Forbes Nash Jr., a Nobel Prize-winning genius who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. At the same time, Crowe’s being courted for the Warner Bros. film “33 Liberty Street,” a drama about a wannabe mobster who tries to crack the big time by pulling a heist. That film is produced by Jerry Weintraub and written by Peter Doyle and rewritten by Jack Olsen.

Crowe has also been offered the Par pic “North of Cheyenne,” directed by Jon Amiel.

The Australian-born Crowe has shot up the ranks of leading men with alarming speed. After a starmaking turn in “L.A. Confidential,” Crowe received an Oscar-nomination for his portrayal of tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in the Michael Mann-directed “The Insider,” before portraying the soldier-turned-slave Maximus in “Gladiator.”

Universal’s attempt to land him for “A Beautiful Mind” is an interesting development, given how much the film has been the subject of rumormongering, capped by a hair-trigger trade report that Robert Redford was set to direct Tom Cruise in the role of Nash. Howard recently committed to helm the Akiva Goldsman-scripted adaptation as his follow-up to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” Brian Graser is set to produce. The timing coincides perfectly with Crowe’s establishment as a bonafide box office draw.

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