Inside Move: Crowe flies coop on Oz epic

Thesp leaves Luhrmann after studio spats

What’s going on with Baz Luhrmann’s period Australian epic?

Russell Crowe, who said yes long ago to starring with Nicole Kidman in the drama for 20th Century Fox, departed last week after disagreements with the studio.

A report in the New York Post (both the tab and 20th are owned by Rupert Murdoch) said Heath Ledger had replaced Crowe, who was spurned when he tried to return to the pic. In fact, reps for the “Brokeback Mountain” star confirmed he had passed.

Kidman and Luhrmann are still attached to the project, which 20th is going forward with. It’s unlikely Crowe will return, as studios were buzzing about his sudden late-year vacancy, the same as they did after the implosion of the Fox comedy “Used Guys” over a budget that went north of $110 million.

The development indicates the fragility of projects, no matter how hot the participants. Coming off “Moulin Rouge,” Luhrmann was poised to direct an epic about Alexander the Great with producer Dino De Laurentiis. Unfortunately, he was beaten to the punch by director Oliver Stone and the project stopped in its tracks and robbed Luhrmann of several years’ worth of momentum. Given the Crowe-Kidman epic was his comeback, the sudden leading-man loss can’t be heartening to the filmmaker.

Crowe himself is not immune to experiencing canceled projects. He and Kidman last year were set to star in another all-Aussie effort, the Jocelyn Moorhouse-directed Fox drama “Eucalyptus.” That film fell apart over creative differences.

Ironically, Crowe is preparing to star alongside Denzel Washington for director Ridley Scott in “American Gangster,” a picture that was previously unplugged by Universal Pictures when Washington had a pay-or-play deal to star with Benicio Del Toro for director Antoine Fuqua.

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